Six Car Tips To Help You Wade Through Hurricane Irene

August 26, 2011

Hurricane Irene is poised to make landfall on the Eastern seaboard, then cruise up the coast, impacting up to 50 million drivers in cities from Washington, D.C., to Boston.

Are you prepared?

While hurricanes can be brutal and devastating, they offer at least two upsides that many other natural disasters don't: (1) you can see them coming, which means that (2) you have time to prepare. Our veterans of Hurricanes Ivan, Dennis, Katrina, Gustav et al offer some tips to smooth the seas of storm preparation -- whether you plan to ride things out or pack up and go. 

1. Maintain your machine (and do it early)
Have you been putting off vehicle maintenance? Need new tires? Serpentine belt about to go? Now's the time to get that out of the way, stat. In a perfect world, you'd have taken advantage of the summer downtime to mosey into your local garage -- or put your car up on blocks, if that's your thing. Today, you just need to make sure your vehicle should be in the best possible shape for a potential round-trip evacuation of 400+ miles. 

2. There's always a hitch (carrier)

When most people evacuate, they take the biggest vehicle they've got. That makes sense, given all the people, pets, and belongings that folks want to take with them, but bigger vehicles often come up short on fuel economy. A hitch carrier (here's one example, and here's another) gives you a tad more storage room -- and if you don't have a truck with an open bed, it provides a place to put extra fuel. Anyone who's ever spent 12 hours traveling 100 miles in bumper-to-bumper evacuation traffic knows how important that can be.

3. Pack up (we mean vertically)
Many SUVs and wagons come with roof racks, but not everyone has storage containers meant for rooftop travel. There's nothing wrong with strapping shoeboxes to your car, we suppose, but shelling out for an affordable container like the multipurpose (though disturbingly named) "Getout" bag from Yakima makes packing much easier. Added bonus: you won't have to worry about showering the drivers behind you with toys, toiletries, or unmentionables.

4. Think of the children (translation: plan for distractions)
Whether you choose to leave town or stick it out, planning for hurricanes causes a lot of stress, and that goes double if you're a parent. The time will go much faster if your wee ones are distracted with the latest version of Angry Birds (or whatever the kids are playing these days).

If you're staying put, purchase a solar charger like the ones from Think Geek. They're affordable, and when the power goes out, you and yours won't be left in the dark. If you're planning to pack up, grab a headrest mount for your iPad or other tablet. We've seen them for BMW, Mercedes, and other rides, but a quick search on Amazon turns up a range of brackets to fit most any car. That'll keep the backseat much quieter -- and you much calmer as a result.

5. Plan for pets
If you're evacuating, you might consider leaving Fido and Whiskers at home. After all, you'll be back in day or two, right? WRONG. Very, very wrong. Not only are your pets your responsibility, but leaving them behind would cause untold stress from heat and anxiety. Plan ahead with pet food, vaccinations, and the like.

Traveling with water is especially important. Hurricane season happens when North America is at its hottest, and when stuck in traffic, we're tempted to turn down the A/C to save a little gas. That's fine for humans, but not so much for our furry friends. Consider a car-friendly, no-spill bowl, like the Waterboy from Lixit -- it'll keep your pets cool and your cargo area dry.

6. But most of all, just plan
All the roof racks and pet bowls in the world won't do you any good if you don't have a hurricane plan in place. Answer these questions to get the ball rolling:

Where are you going? The answer can vary depending on where a storm makes landfall. In the northern hemisphere, we generally want to be to the west of storm systems, since the eastern and northern sides are most brutal. Occasionally, though, it may be smarter to travel east -- or, if you live along the Gulf Coast, due north. With Irene, it's a move west that seems prudent. Give yourself some options.

What are you taking? Do you know where your homeowner's insurance paperwork is? How about your medical insurance? If you're on medication, do you have an ample supply of it? Start a checklist now, and add to it as you think of important stuff.

What are you doing to protect what's left? Moving lightweight items indoors is a good start, but what about the interior of your home? Where can you put artwork, heirlooms, and other valuables to make sure they're safe from leaks or rising water? If you're leaving a vehicle behind, consider parking it in an elevated parking garage. No, it's not as comforting as leaving it in your driveway, but it'll be far less prone to flooding. And think of it this way: evacuations are costly affairs -- do you really want to pay for vehicle repairs, too?

Speaking of your return: how will you know when to come back? Most city and county governments have emergency systems tied to mobile phone networks, so you can receive updates on the status of your area by text message. Many cities now have Twitter accounts, too -- follow them. And don't forget to check with your energy provider; many of them have text, Twitter, and other systems for letting you know when the lights are back on at home.

Planning for natural disasters is never fun, but going through the process now can save you untold time and stress down the line. Get your ducks in a row, and you can turn an evacuation into a "hurrication" for you and yours.

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