Hurricane Irma strengthens to category 4 as storm nears Leeward Islands
Since Hurricane Wilma in 2005, many supermarkets and gas stations have installed generators. That means ice, fresh meat and produce may be available even if your electricity at home is out. And, with gas stations open, you'll be able to get fuel for your home generator or escape the area by car until the lights are back again.
But if the markets and gas stations can't get supplies and fuel, or if their staffs can't make it safely to work, you should be able to feed yourself and your family for at least a week without power. And if there is a boil water order, you'll need to have fresh water available too.
So now is the time to start stocking your hurricane pantry. We recommend that every time you go to the supermarket for the next few weeks, pick up a few dried, boxed, canned, bottled or jarred items from your hurricane shopping list.
That will spread out the cost and the effort and keep you from having to shop for staples when a storm warning causes long lines and empty shelves.
The first item on your emergency list should be water. You won't have to use it unless a boil-water warning is issued. But it's better to have it on hand than risk going thirsty.
Plan to stock seven gallons of water per person. That should be enough for drinking and cooking for a week. You can buy bottled water, or, if you prefer, fill recycled glass bottles that you rinse with a little bleach. Don't reuse plastic bottles; they can't be made clean enough.
Then when the storm approaches, fill buckets, the sink and tub with water to use for cleaning and washing only.
Next on your list should be nonperishable food to feed your family for a week.
While the storm is surging, your family probably won't sit down to meals and you won't feel like cooking. During those hours while the wind howls, provide snacks and bite-sized foods to keep the family sated.
Think crackers, string cheese, mini-cut carrots and salsa, hummus with bagel chips, unsalted baked chips, sliced apples or grapes. Unsweetened cereals make crunchy healthy snacks as well as quick meals at times besides breakfast.
After the storm when the power is out, your family will be working hard to clean up, and you can bet it will be hot. That's when starting the day with a good breakfast and stopping for meals becomes important.
When shopping, cruise the supermarket aisles looking for ways to build meals your family will enjoy.
If they don't like sardines, don't buy them even though the cans are convenient. Instead, roam the canned meat, pasta and pasta sauce, canned fruit and canned vegetable and boxed and canned milk aisles. Try for pop top cans; if not, be sure you have a manual can opener available.
Notice how different products are available in a variety of flavors and package sizes. If you are feeding a family, purchase rice mixes and canned goods that will serve them without leftovers. The less you need to put in the cooler after a meal, the better.
For example, tuna fish packed in oil or water comes in large, medium and single-serving cans. You can also get tuna packed in pouches. Pork and beans comes in a variety of flavors, including country style, Boston recipe and vegetarian, in sizes that might range from single serving to crowd pleasing. And don't miss the aisle where they sell single servings of shelf-stable puddings, fruits and gelatins.
When you get home with your emergency supplies, store them in one place. This might be plastic boxes under the bed or a shelf in the pantry.
Keep an inventory of what you have so it's easy to find in the dark. And don't raid your stores when you run short of something for dinner one evening.
Now is also the time to start using the chops, steaks and other pricey items you have in your freezer. The less that's there, the less you have to lose if the power goes out.
And by making space in your freezer, there will be room for water bottles when a storm is predicted.
They will help keep the freezer cold longer in case of a power outage. And, if you need to move that food to insulated chests, you can use the water bottles as ice. When they melt, you can drink from them.
After the storm when the refrigerator is of no use, have two large coolers or ice chests available. These can be inexpensive foam ones if you wish.
Place items you want to access often such as fruit, snacks and sodas in one cooler with ice. Place items you want to store long-term in the other ice cooler. The less it's opened the longer it will keep your food cold.
You also will need a way to heat food when the microwave and electric range are out of commission. I like a butane burner or camp stove that creates enough heat to easily boil water. For safety use the burner only outdoors, as it can emit a toxic gas.
Also have an outdoor grill with plenty of propane or charcoal on hand.
When a storm is on the horizon, stock up on fresh items such as bread, apples, carrots, grapefruit, oranges, iceberg lettuce and broccoli. When the power goes out, use these items within the first few days to avoid spoilage.
And please, don't start pouring the margaritas and rum punches as soon as the wind blows.
You can't host a hurricane party and keep your wits about you to handle emergencies. Wait until the storm passes. When you know you and your family are safe, that's time to celebrate.