Before the Storm Hits

When I was growing up in Puerto Rico, I remember the stories my great grandmother and great aunt used to tell me about hurricanes past– San Ciriaco, San Ciprián, San Felipe–are just some of the names I remember. I wondered why hurricanes in Spanish always had the names of saints. I found out that hurricanes used to acquire their names according to the day they hit in accordance to the Catholic calendar. Each day commemorates the birth day of one or more saints according to the calendar. Not a very scientific system, I must add. As of 1960, the naming process in the US was standardized. In times past, these storms were so newsworthy that many other events, such as births, were described as “having happened before or after a given hurricane”. For example, I was born on the year of the Santa Clara hurricane (AKA Betsy on the US Mainland), which was a relatively mild hurricane by Puerto Rican standards at the time.

When the National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning, I recall that the entire preparation process usually revolved around buying batteries, flashlights, collecting water, and cooking plenty of food and perhaps boarding windows. That was it. Since we were pretty luck from 1960 to about 1989, the hurricane preparations basically were associated with party time. These were opportunities for great family gatherings with a lot of food where everyone sat around the TV or radio depending upon whether you had electricity or not—not well thought out emergency preparedness techniques.

It’s wise to prepare a kit of supplies in preparation for potential disasters. Hurricane season is a good time to start. It’s best to stock up on food that is not easily perishable or that does not require refrigeration in the event you are without electricity for extended periods of time. Stock up on water and drinking water. Keep a three day supply of drinking water for the family if possible. Stocking up on your prescription medications is also a good idea. In terms of your property, you should also check around your home to minimize debris as much as possible. It’s also a good idea to clear rain gutters and down spouts in advance. Keep a full tank of gas in your car in the event that you might be ordered to evacuate.

For additional tips, before and after the storm, visit our web pages for information in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese.

And if the whole naming process caught your interest, visit the National Hurricane Center for the lists of hurricanes names planned years in advance for both Atlantic and Pacific storms.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.