Here’s an old post I wrote five years ago when Tropical Storm Isaac came across Florida in 2012. The information in this post is still relevant. 

When the early threats of wind, rain and some down power lines came from the many news stations in South Florida last week, I wasn’t so petrified. Tropical Storm Isaac was hardly my first big storm.

I’m a Florida native, and these things just come with the territory.  But after seeing the intense and life altering flooding in Wellington and other parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties (where I live in South Florida) in the wake of Isaac, I am reminded of just how serious storms like this can be.

We decided early in the week that we would secure the barn with shutters through the weekend no matter the strength of the storm. The farm is a good 20 miles from the shore, but with the direction the storm was heading, it was likely we were going to get hit by the outer fringes.

At the time, Isaac was forecasted to be a Tropical Storm with winds up to 60 mph. That alone was enough to rattle even our very sturdy 22-stall, concrete foundation barn. We were used to the flooding, any summer thunderstorm would leave a pasture or two with soggy puddles and deep muddy tracks. But of course we were hoping for the best. There was a small opportunity that the storm would miss us on the East Coast all together, as it shifted its path deeper into the Gulf. If only we had been so lucky.

So on came the shutters and down came the doors. The ponies looked at us with disdain in their eyes as the big doors were latched shut, and their stalls were left dark from their shuttered windows. Two full days stuck inside wasn’t exactly what they had in mind either. The storm came and went, knocking down large trees in other parts of the community and seriously flooding our neighbors to the north. We were lucky to get through with only a few shattered roof shingles and a mess of tree branches, leaves and uprooted landscaping. The ponies were just fine, and took off like banshees through the wet grass this morning as the sun first resurfaced from underneath the dark clouds.

The flooding seen in Wellington and the neighboring communities, although devastating, is nothing compared to the shambles we’ve been left in by storms in the past. Hurricane Wilma (circa 2005) left thousands without power for weeks. I remember we actually shipped the ponies to a more secure farm two hours north of home for that one. The fairgrounds opened up stalls to those who worried their facility’s infrastructure wasn’t strong enough to sustain the winds. Veterinary clinics moved ailing animals to hospitals in areas that were out of the “cone of error.”

It’s important to prepare your animals for these storms just as much as you prepare your home and your family. With horses, it’s recommended that you finalize a solid evacuation plan well before the hurricane season  (April-Nov.)

Visit Floridahorse.com for a long list of tips, links and a checklist for storm preparation. Even if you don’t live in an area where hurricanes are a factor, these tips are good for basically any kind of disaster. Here are some bullet points:

Identification:  After Hurricane Andrew (circa 1992) 80 percent of the horses found after the storm had no I.D. Keep a recent photo of your horse with you after you’ve shuttered up your barn or transported him elsewhere. Keep it with your current Coggins and any other ID, (microchip, special scars/markings, vet’s info, medication.) You can even try braiding a luggage tag into your horse’s tail, or body clipping your phone number into your horse’s fur. I’ve seen people write phone numbers of hooves with Sharpies. (Extreme, yes – but important.)

Evacuation stabling: Most Animal Control offices will have evacuation stabling available in hurricane-fortified shelters. But spots fill up fast. Know the right number to call and make the decision to move early.  It’s recommended to leave at least 48 hours before the storm.

Preparing your barn: Keep the aisle ways clear – secure all pitchforks, extra halters, buckets, etc.  in a locked tack room. Have at least two weeks supply of feed and hay in a secured room. Wrap hay in plastic or bag it to keep it dry. Fill plastic garbage cans with water. Prepare an emergency kit with ointments, bandages, etc. and keep in a dry place.  Secure all vehicles, (tractors, etc.) away from the barn and shut off circuit breakers. I’ve known some people to keep their horses turned out in the pastures during a storm. That call is up to you. Also, notify your barn neighbors where you’ll be if for some reason they have news about your horses.

After the storm:  Watch out for pests – fire ants, snakes, rodents will be looking for dry shelter and some will find refuge in your barn. Do a sweep and make sure the barn is stable enough for your animals to return home to, or safe enough to continue to keep them there. Sometimes the worst damage to an infrastructure isn’t readily apparent. Horse communities often have neighborhood associations. It’s a good idea to plan with your horse-owning neighbors to work on a schedule for clean up and caring for the animals.