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A Louisianian's advice on coping with Hurricane Irene

By James Carville, CNN Contributor
  • James Carville: Long experience with hurricanes teaches you lessons
  • The most dangerous part of hurricane is storm surge, Carville says
  • Areas with infrequent hurricanes can have many vulnerable trees, he says
  • Carville: After the danger has passed, get together and have a party

Editor's note: James Carville is a Democratic strategist who serves as a political contributor for CNN, appearing frequently on CNN's "The Situation Room" as well as other programs on all CNN networks. Carville remains active in Democratic politics and is a party fundraiser.

(CNN) -- As a Louisianian who has spent a considerable amount of time on the East Coast, I thought I would take this opportunity to give you some tips on how to deal with your little dust-up on the Atlantic. Be advised, my tips are based completely on personal experience.

I thought I would tell you some things your hurricane tracking chart will not. The first thing to remember about hurricanes is that the most significant damage is a result not of the wind and the rain, but of the storm surge, which is a wall of water pushed in ahead of the hurricane. It causes a great deal of the flooding -- most all of the flooding, actually. However, unless you live in a low-lying area near the coast, this is not going to be a problem for you.

The second element to keep in mind while preparing for the storm is the wind. Hurricane force winds can pose serious danger. If you are stupid enough to be outside in one of these things, you are really placing yourself in harm's way. The danger is not so much that the wind itself will kill you, it's the stuff flying in the wind that will do the job. We aren't just talking about branches and limbs, we are talking whole trees.

In areas where hurricanes are infrequent, such as the East Coast, the tree inventory is very compromised. This means that you East-Coasters haven't recently had harsh enough weather to knock down considerable amounts of trees, getting rid of the weaker ones.

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There is some element of weather related Darwinism at work here. Strong winds today in a place like New Orleans would cause less damage compared to the East Coast's arboreal abundance. The scarce horizon of the Mississippi Gulf Coast soberly bears this truth. Of course, this is based solely on the fact that Katrina has already taken all our weaker trees, leaving only the strong behind. (Your mama said there is always some good in everything.)

The idea here is that I wouldn't tell you not to have a hurricane party, I'll just tell you not to go outside. Also, check around your house to be sure you aren't in danger of trees falling on your home. If so, you may want to pay a visit to your in-laws.

As a side note, during Hurricane Gustav (2008), an enormous tree landed on my nephew's home, crushing the roof directly on their bed. Thank God he, his wife and baby were having breakfast in the kitchen. For reference, Gustav was a Category 2 hurricane and Baton Rouge had more land between it and the Gulf than Washington will have between itself and Irene.

I'm moving on to perhaps one of the most pertinent yet forgotten tips of hurricane preparedness. If your electricity is out for any period of time, be sure to throw everything out of your freezer and refrigerator. Trust me on this. If the food goes bad you will never get the smell out, no matter how hard you try.

When people evacuate down here, the last thing they do before leaving is clean out the refrigerator. We give new meaning to "when in doubt, throw it out." It's one thing to lose the food, it's another to lose the food and the freezer. Also, I've always found that you can't have too much ice. If you have ice chests, fill them with as much ice as you can. I promise you will not regret it.

As I look at the trajectory, the one thing we can be thankful for is that we are on the west side of the eye. The west side of the eye tends to be weaker than what is called the northeast quadrant. I would refer to weather professionals, but it seems to me that some parts of Long Island, New York, might be in serious trouble if past weather models hold up.

Remember, don't just look at the eye and adjust your behavior according to where you believe the eye is going to be: These things go out 100 miles either way. The best weather website that I use personally indicates that the eye should be passing over Washington sometime around Sunday morning. You can be sure that the dust-up will start long before that and continue long after. Try to get yourself and your family prepared by noon Saturday.

I don't mean to worry you, anyone who uses common sense should be fine. This is not a particularly vicious hurricane and the worst that should happen is that you will be considerably inconvenienced.

Do what people tend to do down here. After the danger has passed, get together and have a party. Hell, you have ice, you have beer, you have Makers, why not? Hopefully you will have electricity. To be sure, don't forget your playing cards. Good luck, and thanks for the help after the great engineering failure of 2005. I would call it Hurricane Katrina, but John Barry and Harry Shearer would kill me.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of James Carville.

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