South Florida is still a mess. We were without power for five days and were among the lucky ones to get it back that soon. Many areas in the Keys were simply destroyed, the storm covered the entire state and made a sharp westward jog before coming ashore at an agonizingly slow 8 mph pace. That means there was plenty of time for the 400 mile wide storm to whip the entire state.
One of the great advantages to RV living is the ability to pack up and escape inclement weather. But there was no escape from Irma. Our friends seeking shelter on the west side of the state, ended up fleeing again to Georgia. There they still got lashed by Cat 1 force winds. Friends who booked a campground in Pensacola, ended up driving all the way to Mississippi. Getting back after the storm was a nightmare of traffic and searches for fuel. We learned a lot of what worked and what didn’t in a major natural disaster.
Lack Of Fuel
Problems getting gas in Florida started days before the hurricane even reached land. People tanked up their cars, spare gas cans, and generators. After the storm only a handful of stations had both gasoline and electricity. Diesel was even harder to find. One of the best investments we ever made for our RV tow vehicle was a 50 gallon transfer tank that fit in the bed of our truck. That extra fuel gave us over 1,000 miles range. One day you might really need it.
Not all campers have generators. If yours does, make sure it’s a good one. We hauled a generator around for 12 years and, the one time we really needed it, it quit on us. Luckily we had a spare we could borrow or our generator would have left us up a creek when we needed it the most. When you do really need it, it will have to run for days with only a few breaks. Your 12 volt system is great for lights and a fan but it won’t run the A/C unit.
Quality Rain Gear
My rain gear was awesome. To prove it I went outside when the hurricane was most intense and just walked around, much to the chagrin of hotel security who asked my wife if I was okay. “Yeah, he always does stuff like that,” she confirmed. I was wearing my Guide Series Thundercloud II breathable rain jacket and a pair of oilcloth rain pants found at Gander Mountain’s going-out-of-business sale. It was awesome, like having my own personal weather cocoon. Not only was I waterproof but the venting and mesh lining of the jacket kept me cool. I would have stayed outside except for the whipping power lines and curfew. Spend some money on quality rain gear, it’s worth it.
I’ve mentioned Google Fi cell service before and it was one of the functional high points of our hurricane experience. Google’s cell service uses the strongest signal from two different major cellular carriers and automatically selects the best one. When one of the cell towers near the hotel lost pieces during the storm, our phones automatically switched to the other carrier. Their system also preferentially uses WiFi, when available, instead of cellular for calls and data. Our phones stayed working even through the worst of the storm and aftermath, including the time we were without power. The Fi service also automatically encrypts all your data transmissions to keep hackers from spying on you. To top it off we got a text from Google after the storm passed that, since we were in an area impacted by the hurricane, they were giving us a $20 data credit for the extra use.
Know When To Abandon Your RV
Hurricane Irma was one time that using mobility to get out of the way meant a lot of driving. At a certain point, you may have to consider abandoning your RV for a more solidly built hotel. The challenge will then be finding somewhere to store your RV or camper. Most self-storage facilities have RV storage but don’t wait. Most of them here chained their gates closed a couple days before the storm got here so no one tried to ride the storm out in a self-storage unit. Don’t count on a hotel to have the space for a trailer and most won’t want it there anyway.
Your best bet, if you can find (or carry) enough fuel, is to go and just keep going as far as necessary to find safety. Leave early and don’t stop until you’re certain you’re out of the danger zone. In the case of Irma, that means stopping in another state.