Preparing for a cyclone, written as we prepared!

Warwick Rowell, Friday 29 November 2013

On the morning of 28th of January 2011, we heard that a tropical cyclone might head in this direction.  Having been through Albie in Perth in 1978, and knowing how much damage it did to Busselton and Yallingup, we (three adults) have spent about four hours this morning doing things to minimise damage from wind-blown materials, and thinking about what might happen.

A bit pessimistic?  Well, it depends on your point of view, and Permaculture is, after all, about careful observation!

Here is the list of things we have done, or plan to do in basic preparation:

  • All loose objects outside are secured.  One thing we lack is a shed, but that might lead you to a false sense of security, unless it has been built cyclone proof!   We have timber carefully stacked, under two layers of plastic, and weights around every metre of the edge of the plastic.   Ladders, shade structures for plants, saw horses, and garden tools have been carefully stacked close to the house, covered with plastic, and they will be held down by lengths of heavy timber.
  • All garden furniture and wheely bins will be moved inside if it gets closer. Wind chimes have been taken down, so they don’t add extra stress.   Pot plants have been clumped, as we have too many to bring indoors.
  • We have put a barrow of small to medium size (215mm to 150mm) rocks under the overflow pipe of the rain water tank.  4 x 100mm inlets and only one 50mm outlet does not work!  The tank is surrounded by loose grit, so general overflows will be easily absorbed, but the 50mm pipe would be spouting well before that.
  • External shade sails have been taken down.  Which is a pity; they only went up in the last day or two.
  • The solar panels have been flat on the ground, and their bolts all tightened.
  • The fire ute has been started and its battery run for one hour, to make sure it goes if it is needed.   It already has overalls, gloves, and a variety of big hand saws.  The chain saw has been sharpened, and run.   Our dear little Hyundai I30 will be moved under cover to Richard’s carport if needed.   We have wwoofers in a pop-up caravan – we will shut it down and remove it from under shady trees if necessary.  Lots of spare bedding and beds are available if needed. We have wellington boots, rain coats, and hats in accessible positions.
  • A recent purchase of two way radios was mainly for communication in a fire event.  The mobile towers would get overloaded very quickly, in our view.   $49.99 for two of them at Repco!   A good investment, we reckon.   We have had some practice at how to use them.
  • We have plenty of tape for windows, if we think it is needed.  Our windows are all of security glass, and double glazed, so we are at less risk than most others. We also have a line of big rocks to the west that would stop all but the very biggest debris, in a very fierce wind storm. They also serve the purpose of a radiant heat absorption layer, in the event of a fire from that direction.
  • Since this article was first written we have screened four western and southern windows with aluminium security door material, the sort made from a 3mm sheet with lots of little holes.   Secured 80mm off the glass, they provide a huge increase in security from blown objects.  The holes are also small enough to stop embers from sitting on the timber frames.  An unexpected bonus is light control; where summer sun and heat used to come in the western windows shortly after midday, we now don’t get any sun and so heat penetration until nearly four in the afternoon – Permaculture’s principle of three uses!
  • A quick check revealed we’re a bit light on long-life or powdered milk, but we have a good stock of beans, rice, bread flour, yeast, pasta, and a deep freeze full of fish and pigeons and kangaroo meat as well.
  • Being solar powered, with 10 days cautious consumption stored in our batteries, we would have to be very unlucky to lose refrigeration, but we do have a back up generator, from our previous place, where we had unreliable mains electricity.   All the rechargeable batteries in the house have been charged up and we have six different torches/spot lights ready to go.

Now we are just sweating it out!  It is very hot and humid, and still.  Quite foreboding, actually. We’ll keep track of progress via radio, mainly, and also the web.

A really severe cyclone hitting this region would be quite catastrophic.  We did some analysis years ago of our two major threats.  One was a strong cyclone, the other a big fire.  Dealing with a possible fire was described in another article. Our analysis of the effects of a strong cyclone was passed to the Shire with a copy of an article describing how, after Katrina, local government officials all through the central and southern US undertook major reassessments as to their preparedness.  There is no point in being well-prepared if there is unnecessary devastation around you.

Shortly after the bulk of this article was finished, the eastern edge of the cyclone hit the exceptionally wide Leeuwin current, built up energy from that warm water, skipped sixty miles inland, and then an intense series of storms ripped down the edge of the scarp, from Geraldton, to Collie, causing a lot of flooding and wind damage.   The eye dissipated and we had a lovely mild day with a very spectacular lightning show to the north that evening.

Warwick lives with his extended family on the ridge between Dunsborough and Yallingup, and is working on improving his Permaculture skills there.  He reckons that it takes about ten lifetimes to be a really good Permaculturist.