Yep, today is the summer solstice, longest day of the year and the official start of the summer season.
But another, more important marker passed not long ago — one that’s a lot more meaningful to New Orleanians: the start of hurricane season.
For years, as Inside/Out editor and feature reporter at The Times-Picayune, I chronicled hurricane season preparation basics, from grab-and-go boxes to wind-up radios to evacuation planning. Anyone who has spent a summer here knows the drill. When a storm enters the Gulf, you start playing that old parlor game: If the house blows down, what one (two, three) thing(s) do you grab as you head out?
I wasn’t so attuned to the June 1 readiness drill before Katrina. So, when that storm approached, I, like so many others, hit the road with three changes of clothing and the dog on a leash. Little did I think I wouldn’t be returning home for six weeks — or that, when I did, the house would be full of mold, the refrigerator full of maggots and all our furniture a wet mess. I sent one daughter off to a semester in Italy with an emergency passport ($200 cash, eight hours in line at the Houston passport office) and her clothes in a garbage bag; another went back to school with the small suitcase she had packed to visit her grandmother the week before Katrina; her downstairs bedroom remained under water. Meanwhile, I was rotating outfits 1, 2 and 3, mentioned above.
Nowadays, we take the June-November storm season a lot more seriously. In my closet, I have a red expander file containing passports, birth certificates, insurance policies and Other Important Papers. I keep water, battery operated radios and flashlights close at hand, and my kitchen drawer contains a hand-cranked can opener. I pay annually for a remote server backup of the contents of my hard drive.
I could go on and on with pointers on hurricane preparation. Perhaps simpler is a visit on Saturday to The Prepare Fair hosted by the Louisiana State Museum. The idea is to consolidate hurricane readiness information, with input from the American Red Cross Southeast Louisiana Chapter, Entergy, Evacuateer.org, the Louisiana SPCA, the City of New Orleans, the UNOCenter for Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology (CHART) and WWL-TV with weather reporter Derek Kevra.
The Prepare Fair will take place from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 22, at The Presbytere, 751 Chartres St. It’s open to the public and includes free admission to Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond, the hurricane history and science exhibition at the Presbytère. If you haven’t seen it, the exhibit alone is well worth a trek to the French Quarter.
It’s interactive, filled with interesting and well-researched data, recreates both the history and emotion of Katrina, and will draw you in with its videos, recordings, environmental recreations and meteorlogical and geographical info.
And, if nothing else, it will open your eyes to what happened to those of us who, on Aug. 29, 2005, weren’t prepared for the big one.
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at email@example.com.