75 Front Street, Hamilton HM 12 - Phone: +1 441 2963600 - Fax: +1 441 2956209 - E-mail: info@fmgroup.bm - Mailing Address: P.O. Box HM 836, Hamilton HM CX, Bermuda

When the Big Wind Blows

Some observations, recollections, and admonitions from a local Claims Adjuster

Well here it is again. Every year we all trot out the magic litany, “Bucket, Rope Flashlight, Batteries, etc. etc.”, but unless Fabian or Emily is still fresh in our mind, none of us pay any real attention until the weather radar goes a solid green with orange streaks, and splurges of yellow. At this point, we tear off to the hardware store to join in the panic buying. Miss that and you are on your own, Jack… wondering if the battery from the TV remote will run a flashlight.

The time to buy all that ‘stuff’ is now. Actually, you should already have, ‘that stuff’, and by now you should only need to buy replacements for things like batteries, candles, and those items that have been,”I only need the bucket to paint the roof. I’ll replace it. Honest sweetie”, ‘borrowed’.

By the way, when stocking up on the tinned grub, it’s not a bad idea to get a manual can opener. The electric one that’s nailed to the kitchen wall will not work once the lights go out, and chewing tin cans can blunt your teeth, unless you’re a black Labrador. In that case, it merely whets the appetite.

The stock of batteries should be replaced at least once a year, and candles have a habit of being used as… well, as candles. Remember that romantic evening last October when you decorated the patio in cushions and candlelight? How impressed she was then. Well guess how impressed she will be for the next week after the storm with no electric and no lights. Oh and you forgot to get a spare cylinder for the Bar-B-Que, so no hot food either.

Fire Hazard

If you really want to impress her, you can do what one of my clients did last time around… place the candle in a saucer by the curtains. Once the flimsy liner caught, this did produce an awful lot of light. She was very impressed. So was he. He didn’t know she knew that many cuss words. As the Insurance Company, we were not all that impressed, but you can probably see our point really.

That individual was fortunate in that this particular event took place three days after the storm, and the fire brigade was able to get to the scene of the idiocy reasonably quickly. Do that in a hurricane and you may as well break the seal on the fridge, get out the marshmallows and weenies. There is nobody coming to put the fire out in the middle of a Category Three Storm.

One other interesting thing about a storm is if you really want to incinerate a Bermuda home to the point of obliteration, it can be achieved. Have it catch fire in a hurricane. No pesky fire brigade to efficiently spoil your experiment, just a good robust ninety-five mile an hour breeze to provide the truly incandescent furnace blowtorch effect that no serious pyromaniac would be without. Please do not try this at home.

Whilst on the subject of fires, let us not forget our old friend the portable generator. Ah yes… those post storm weeks while BELCO pick the spaghetti out of the trees. It’s almost like camping on Southshore for Cup Match. The happy throb each morning throughout the neighborhood as the plucky little 3.5KW Jennies pulse out power for breakfast, and a shower. And on they run to lunchtime while Mom does the chores. And on they run through the afternoon as the family prepares for the evening meal. And on they run through the evening, evidenced by the glow of a DVD on television, made possible by these cheerfully roaring little machines.

We sit on the hill in the starlight, and watch the lights go out around the neighborhood. By ten o-clock, there are only a few sleepyheads still up and about, but soon they too will drift off to dreamland. There we are. Look….just seven left on our road. Now, only three. Soon they’ll all be asleep. But they won’t, will they? And why not? Because the air is still full of the roar of generators, thundering through the night making sleep impossible for anyone who didn’t grow up next to a major airport. Even the tree frogs have knocked off, and gone home in disgust. They can’t compete with this racket.

Please show a little consideration for your neighbors. You really do not need to power the fridge all night. Just skip the late night choccie raid, and leave it shut until the morning. It will stay cold. I promise. And the little light inside….it does go out on its own when you shut the door.

Generators have one or two other little foibles.

  1. They need to be located in a dry, but well ventilated, sheltered place.
  2. They need to be run once every couple of months or so, and run with a load on. This is techno-speak for, “plug something in for an hour or two, like a fridge.” I don’t understand the details, but apparently this makes the machine feel wanted, and needed, and so it tries harder for you next time. If you leave it in a corner of the garage under an old bicycle, and let 50 feet of hosepipe coil itself around them, it feels neglected and sulks when you try to turn it on once the lights go out. Using the generator also means you use the fuel, and this keeps it fresh.
  3. Yes. They need fuel. Fresh fuel. Do not bring the generator or the fuel into the house. Fuel and sparks are even better than candles and curtains for a cheerful conflagration, and No…she, will Not be impressed.
  4. When you put petrol in at one end. Carbon monoxide comes out of the other. This is a colorless, odorless gas, and will kill you, and your pet cat, and your pet dog, and your goldfish, stone cold dead. It does so on multiple occasions throughout America every year, escaping from generators, heaters, BBQs, (yes it has been done), and other appliances which, contrary to instruction and common sense, we bring into our homes to make life easier, though regrettably, sometimes shorter.

Ventilation

Wherever you use your generator, when the manufacturers say on the box — “Run In Well Ventilated Area,” that is precisely what they mean. Trust them on this one. Plan now where your generator will be set up, and how you will power your home. Bear in mind it will be wet and windy when you need it. Wet does not mix well with electricity, and we have already touched upon the paucity of service to be anticipated from the Fire and Ambulance people when the ducks are flying backwards. “But ducks don’t go out in hurricanes,” you cunningly point out. “Very sensible of them too.” reply the Firemen and Ambulance crews. “Nor do we.”

But I digress. Now, there are essentially two ways of using a generator. The first is to run extension cords from the machine into the home, and then to run specific appliances from these. This is usually called the spider web method. By day three you’ll know why, but it does need to be controlled somewhat so that the cables are laid safely without causing a trip and fall hazard. Remember it’s still going to be pretty dark in there. It doesn’t help if you’re carrying a candle past the curtains when you trip and fall. It will brighten the place up, but she will not be impressed.

The second method is to have a competent electrician fit your home wiring with an alternative power source input.

Electrocution

Do not ‘backfeed’ into the circuit. Get that one wrong, and you will cause fires, and electrocutions, and a frown on the face of the adjuster. Apart from the hazard to you, it is particularly dangerous for BELCO linemen. Don’t hurt them. They are our friends. We need them.

If you do not know what you are doing with a generator, pay a competent professional to guide you. This is cheaper in the long run.

For those who think that Fabian was the last hurricane to impact Bermuda, and that all we do is, “Cry Wolf” every year, it is worth noting that the Eye Walls of thirty seven named storms have passed within fifty miles of the bottom of Tee Street Devonshire within the last 100 years.

Personally, I’m moving to Smiths.

bermuda-hurricane-paths
Tracks of all named storms passing within 50 Nautical Miles of Devonshire Bermuda 1913 – 2013

Put another way, that’s an average of a little more often than once every three years. Oh, and that’s just within fifty miles. Some of these things are several hundred miles across.

A few interesting figures

Of the recorded tropical cyclones that have affected Bermuda since 1874, the following statistics may be drawn:

Tropical storm to Hurricane Ratio
25 Tropical storms 34.25% (sustained hurricane force winds on the Island)
Average years between direct hurricane hits
48 Hurricanes 65.75% Once every 7.24 years
Longest gap between storms
6 years – 1880 -1887
Average mph of sustained winds in hurricane hits
102mph
How often does Bermuda get affected, brushed or hit?
Once every 1.93 years.

Inevitable

Bermuda is going to be hit by hurricanes repeatedly over the years. They cannot be stopped, and they cannot be deflected. They will come, and every single one has the potential to cause utter devastation. Most of the time it will be heavy surf and a bit of a blow. A few unhappy boat owners will remember Igor, a few householders with some minor damage will have a lingering recollection of Bertha, but most people don’t remember either one.

Then of course there are creatures like Fabian, or Emily. Fabian was a near miss from a big Category Three storm, and we were in the upper right quadrant…the most active and severe area of the hurricane. We were clobbered by a real bruiser that day. Now if Fabian was a Rocky Balboa, Hurricane Emily (1987) on the other hand was a tight compact fast moving little dervish of destruction, who drilled Bermuda dead centre, running right down the length of the island. She was only a petite little Category One hurricane, but that one could wear a yellow cat suit, carry a samurai sword, and double for Uma Thurman any day of the weak.

Size, as some of us are fond of pointing out, isn’t everything.

It is important to have as good idea as possible from which direction the winds will blow. This will tell you which areas of your property may be sheltered. Useful information if you’re wondering where to put your car or bike. Or cat. No! Put the cat in the house.

Wind Direction

Remember the storm is spinning counter clockwise. As the system passes over you, the direction of the wind will change. The closer you are to the centre, the more dramatic the change will be. If the eye goes over you, the winds will cease altogether in the centre, and will then come from the opposite direction to those of the first half of the storm. Take a paper plate and draw counter clockwise arrows on it. Put a mark on a table to represent Bermuda, and place the plate in the relative present position of the storm. Rotate the plate as you move it along the storm’s projected track, and as the plate approaches ‘the island’, you will have an idea as to where the winds will be coming from.

Anything in your garden is a potential missile. Trash cans, branches, lawn and patio furniture. Yes. People have left their furniture out in the garden and then wondered aloud to me two days later how it should have mysteriously levitated, and gone through a glass door. Trampolines are favorites for this. Any of these things hitting a window at upwards of a hundred miles an hour will have a deleterious effect on that fixture’s future viability as a feature of the property.

Glass tops

Pool furniture will go into the pool…yes indeed. But please; not the glass table tops. It’s bad enough when the storm does that, but when the householder throws one in. Don’t laugh. It’s been done, and No. It’s not covered by insurance.

On the subject of windows, we seem to have a inbuilt instinct that, I think, must have been imported from UK as it seems to go back to the Blitz in 1940. Every window must be criss-crossed with tape. Then, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

The National Hurricane Centre discourages taping since, as they rightly point out, it creates a false sense of security. People then end up being cut by flying glass when the sticky tape unaccountably fails to hold the window together in the face of the power of a hundred atom bombs being let off in the back garden. Taping your windows does however, provide one useful result. Once the electricity has gone off, and there’s no TV or Gameboy, or Xbox, for a week, the family can have hours of communal fun together, making their own entertainment by scraping the gluey remnants off the windows.

Sticky Tape

The false sense of security is very real, and is indeed dangerous. “Oh look at all those branches flying around with the patio furniture we left out. That wind must be over a hundred miles an hour. Good job I’m protected from an exploding window by a thin piece of sticky tape.”

OK. Forget the sticky tape. It’s far more effective to have a nice set of well secured shutters, or a sheet of 3/4″ plywood. Get them set up now though.

On one of my earlier claim adjustments after Hurricane Emily…I met a gentleman who very proudly told me how he had saved the Company from having to pay for his sliding glass door. “Vail, she vas bulging’ in, but I wrapped myself in a curtain, and I leaned back into her, and she held”. He told me proudly.

An imploding window having about the same effect as an antipersonnel grenade, I am not sure that his defensive measures would have been adequate, had the door glass shattered as it very well might have done. Somehow I do not see the Bermuda Regiment likely to be wrapping themselves in soft furnishings to afford protection from fragmentation grenades on the range.

“No! No! No! Private Butterfield! Not the Paisley you ‘orrible little man. Go for the pastel laddie. It affords the same protection, but matches your beret.”

I think it best to just stay away from the windows on the windy side of the house.

Bermuda is going to be hit again by a major hurricane. There is no doubt about it.

Perhaps not this year, or next year, or even for five years. But it will happen. I for one, am in no particular hurry to see it. Experience has shown us however, that taking the time to plan sensibly, to take precautions seriously, and to use your common sense before, during and after the storm saves a great deal of hardship and heartache when the surf booms on Southshore, and the big wind blows.

Paul Maccoy

Website & content Copyright © Freisenbruch-Meyer Group. All rights reserved. Terms and Conditions