My experience with diabetes and hurricanes

It was 25 years ago, but I still remember how much my grandma freaked out when she found out my family was moving to Southern California.




There were just so many natural disasters to worry about on the other side of the country.

Seven years ago when I told her about my impending move to Florida, the hurricanes were top in her mind.

This time her worries were slightly better founded. Frances, Jeanne and pounded south Florida the year before and Katrina had come through only months earlier. In fact, as my mom and I drove cross country we had to take a more northern route due to highway closures in Louisiana.

I arrived in Florida in mid-October of 2005. Mid-way through my first week of work the weather reports started. I quickly realized that I prefer hurricanes to earthquakes for one simple reason. The news coverage.

Earthquakes always come by surprise. Every time they hit there was that moment of fear when the ground started shaking and panic while we figure out how bad it was going to be and if we needed to take cover.

I had purchased a TV the weekend of my arrival in Florida, but didn’t have any other furniture yet. I sat on my blow-up mattress and watched the forecasted paths for Hurricane Wilma. It’s hard to find a balance between the weather forecasters who can find drama in knocked over trash cans and accurate predictions of impending storms. Please watch this Al Roker clip.

Wilma took a strange path and actually gained strength as it moved across the state – hurricanes shouldn’t gain strength over land – and was a Category 3 by the time it hit my area. Overall, Wilma is now ranked as one of the top five most expensive Atlantic hurricanes. South Florida took a big hit.

A work building that was condemned and had to be demolished after Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

To say I was unprepared is putting it mildly. I had never been in a hurricane before so I had no idea what to expect. I worked at my brand new job for a week and Wilma hit the Monday morning of the next week. We were not allowed to return to work for a week after that.

In preparation, I bought a few canned items (not a good plan), some flashlights (good plan), and hoped for the best (not a good plan).

Thankfully I had a coworker that had a far better plan. With the other single girls in my department, I headed to his house to wait out the storm with his family. They had shutters, they had a generator, they had gas, and they had plenty of food and water for their family and the extra guests.

They also had ONE tree near their driveway, which managed to fall on my car and the one other car out there during the first half of the storm. During the eye of the storm we found out about the neighbor’s empty garage and were able to move the cars into it.

My hosts were beyond kinds and opened their home up to even more displaced people after the storm. I felt bad for taking up space for myself and my cats and I have a bit of a stubborn streak so I headed home even though my power was still off.

Let me tell you, you really haven’t lived until you have tried to heat a can of Spaghetti-Os over a scented candle. Oh yes, I did.

With a few years under my belt now, I am more prepared to deal with hurricane season. Remarkably, since 2005 every major storm has passed over the state to batter the rest of the east coast (Ernesto 2, Fay, Irene, etc). I don’t really get it.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned for dealing with diabetes and hurricanes so I will be ready for the next one. For more general advice on preparing for hurricanes start here and here.

  • Hurricane season is officially June 1 – November 30 but hurricanes can’t tell time.
  • Have several plans ahead of time for where you will stay during the storm.
    • If you stay home, know where the safest place is in your home. First floor, no windows.
    • Buy a generator or find a friend with one. It is not practical for me to have one, but I know people in my area who have them. Although insulin can remain unrefrigerated for a short amount of time, it might be better to be able to power your refrigerator for your medication and for better food options (see more on food below).
    • Know where the special needs shelters are. Diabetes is a special need. If the damage is really bad in the area, it will be good to be in a place that will be among the first to have ice, water, and electricity. Don’t be stubborn like me. In Florida you can pre-register for the Special Care shelters.
  • Put gas in your car when the storm is first announced. The lines will be long after the storm and the prices will be higher. I guess this one isn’t diabetes related, but it’s a good tip.
  • Make sure you have about a gallon of water per person per day for at least five day’s worth. In South Florida there are often boil water warnings after the storm. You will likely already be eating higher carb food than you are used to eating, don’t add dehydration to the mix.
  • Food. This one is a bit tricky. Choose your hurricane food wisely. Canned food is good if you have a way to cook it, not if you have an electric stove. Food that keeps well tends to be less healthy and have more carbs. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Granola bars. Peanut butter. Trail mix. Did I mention peanut butter? Just give up on eating healthy during a storm. If you have a generator, I guess you get to eat more than peanut butter.
  • Extra medication. I’ll admit that sometimes I get a little lazy refilling my prescriptions on time. This is stupid. During hurricane season, I really need to make sure I have extra medication on hand. Most insurance companies/pharmacies will let you get an emergency fill, especially if a storm is headed in your direction, so you can stock up a little. I have a small insulated cooler that I use to store my medication. Besides insulin, I have batteries. So many batteries. Between my pump, meter(s), and flashlights, batteries are a really good thing.

All that being said, I’ve never experienced a Frakenstorm like Sandy. Storms in Florida don’t generally meet snow carrying cold fronts during a full moon at high tide. The pictures (especially the real ones) of the flooding are just mind boggling.

From what I’ve learned – Stay safe. Know your limits. It’s okay to evacuate. Don’t be stubborn like me. Lukewarm, oddly scented Spaghetti-Os are not that good. Reach out to the diabetes community. We are everywhere and we can help.


  • Grew up in New Orleans and have weathered many storms over the years I was there. One took the roof off the house and caved in the kitchen wall and during one we had flood waters in the house. Evacuate if you can people!!! Praying for those in the path of Sandy.

  • this is a really helpful and informative post (poor al roker. poor unnamed dude clutching al roker’s ankles).

    lukewarm oddly scented spaghetti-o’s is the name of my solo album.

  • One more “be prepared” tip: buy plywood and lumber. It’s the one preparation step I didn’t heed as I braced for the storm. Fortunately I didn’t need any as Sandy passed through without much incident, but I was terrified that a tree limb might shatter a window and I’d have nothing to cover it with. I thought of sacrifice a door or the kitchen tabletop in order to save the rest of the house if need-be.

    At the height of the storm, my across-the-street neighbors were outside with car engines running, headlights shining on the house, and the sound of hammers and nails. I later found out that a tree was about to fall on the house (the homeowner says he “caught it in time”) and they propped it up with some two-by-fours and tied it off to an adjacent tree. If it were my house, the tree would’ve crashed through the window.

    • Good point! I have a whole other list of general hurricane tips. I tried (mostly successfully) to keep this one just about diabetes related tips.

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