In 1985, I braced for my first Florida hurricane, a freaky late-season slider named Kate that roughed up Key West en route to the Florida Panhandle.
For many residents of Mile Marker 0, passing hurricanes are occasion to hole up inside Sloppy Joe's Saloon, a shuttered brick bunker that's ridden out dozens of them. Once the storm passes, the lubricated locals, called conches and pronounced "conks," throw open the shutters and wander out to frolic in the knee-deep waters on Duval Street.
With all of my worldly possessions stowed in the second story of a wooden conch house, I was far more interested in shoring up the old place than listening to "Free Bird" at Sloppy's all night.
Worried about her homeowners insurance, my landlady dispatched me to Home Depot for a case of masking tape, then instructed me to tape huge Xs on all of the windows. Strangely, our neighbors were doing the same.
I'm no engineer but masking tape vs. hurricane? I gotta go with the hurricane. You get a 10-pound palm frond hurtling missile style toward a pane of glass shaft first, that's a smashed window in any neighborhood.
So I was relieved to hear the National Hurricane Center finally dispel this storm-prep voodoo recently at its annual conference in Orlando.
"Our goal is to break this myth," NHC Director Bill Read told the assembled meteorologists and emergency managers. "It does not protect your windows. At best, it's an inconvenience. At worst, some people have the illusion that they're safe … and people can get severely hurt."
In fact, Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president and CEO of Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, says taping can actually make your windows more dangerous by holding together larger shards of flying glass.
It took Hurricane Irene ravaging Vermont and upstate New York last summer to prompt the alliance's "Go Tapeless" movement after thousands of New Englanders armored their windows with tape, some at the suggestion of emergency management folks.
After my rental house survived, I was introduced to another Florida tradition – peeling all that masking tape off the windows. I filed it all as some weird "Welcome to Florida" initiation and have never taped since.
If you live in hurricane country, hurricane shutters and impact-resistant windows are your best options.
Unless you really like "Free Bird."
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