Live Oak Tree

Freelancing Through Hurricane Sally

Hurricane Sally Packs a Punch

A week ago I was following the path of Hurricane Sally on the local news.  The reporting was fairly consistent between the various news sources: Sally would be a rain event.  Since the hurricane had slowed to a crawl in the Gulf of Mexico, it had started to lose strength and I went to bed thinking it was likely going to be a tropical storm by the time it approached our area with lots of rain but low wind.    Living behind the bluff on Mobile Bay, our property is not prone to flooding so we glanced around for any obvious hazzards and went to be thinking we’d really dodged a bullet.

Hurricane Radar

At 3:30 am I was startled awake as a large tree limb hit the roof.  It was pitch black in the house and I quickly realized that not only was the power out, but the wind was absolutely howling outside.  Having been through a few hurricanes in the almost 15 years Iive lived in the South, this did not match up with my idea of what storm we were expecting to get.  I quickly checked my phone only to find out that the storm had intensified overnight and was now coming in as a strong Category 2 and with the slowness of the storm, it parked the eye wall right over my town.  

Storm Damage

After moving into my basement safe room (I don’t mess around with high winds), I was able to rest a bit and as the sun rose, the winds slowed, and we were able to assess the situation.

What we found was not good.  Trees were down EVERYWHERE.  We lost so many trees in our backyard that the amount of light in our house has changed significantly.  And in the surrounding area it looked like every 2nd or 3rd house had either a tree on the house, or a tree over the power lines.  And these are not small trees.  Some of the live oaks (like the one pictured) are massive and will easily block a two lane highway.

We are a week out and we still have not had our power restored.

Pre-Hurricane Prep

When you are a freelancer, clients aren’t always aware of where you live or what might be going on around you.  So it is important to keep the lines of communication open and raise awareness over any potential issues.  I sent text messages to all of my current clients letting them know that the hurricane was approaching and that I may suffer a disruption in service.  Sent this information out two days before the storm hit and requested that any urgent or time sensitive items be delivered ASAP to allow me to wrap them up before the storm.

Hurricane Recovery

The day of the hurricane, after the winds had died down, was not the time to make a detailed action plan and try to get back into my work.  I gave myself permission to do nothing as I knew that I wouldn’t have been super productive anyway after the stress of the actual hurricane followed by the stress of the unknown to follow.  I had a cooler of cold drinks with ice on them and I essentially sat on my porch with a cold beverage in a state of someone low-level shock.   You have permission to not try to force yourself to work when you’ve had this kind start to your day.

For the entire first day I had no power, internet, or even cellular data.  I could occasionally get a basic text message to send.  It wasn’t pretty.  I sent clients a follow up text that I was safe but that we had sustained major damage in the area it it may be a while before my power was restored.   I’m grateful for understanding clients and think that giving them the heads up ahead of time went a long way in staying in their good graces.

Powerless

Powerless wasn’t just the state of my home.  It was also a bit of how I felt that first day.  But there was something about that feeling that brought with it a sense of relief.  Nothing I needed to do that first day.

The next day I walked around a bit and found that if I walked to the next neighborhood that was uphill from my house, I could get a pretty good cell signal.  This allowed me to send emails, read anything that had come in, and find out what was going on locally.  98% of the county I live in lost power in the storm.  I had a few leads for projects that I responded to, letting them know of my situation and suggesting some short term solutions if they needed something before I was restored.

I was also able to find out that the co-working space I’ve used in the past had restored their power and they had internet.  What wonderful news this was.  Although I had not been there recently due to COVID-19, I weighed the benefit of being able to work (and make money) with the risks of being around some other people.  Given the ease of social distancing there, I felt the benefits were worth it (plus my two teens were desperate to get on the internet).

Work Recovery

On Friday (two days post-hurricane) I took a bone-chilling shower and then packed up every chargeable item I had and headed to the co-working space, two kids in tow.  Since I had had a membership on and off over the last year and a half, it was an easy transition back into co-working life.  On that first day my goals were minimal.  Charge everything (ipad, kindle, headphones, laptop, apple watch, airpods, iphone, charging brick).    We were only there a couple of hours but between having power, having internet, and having AC, it made a world of difference.

On Sat and Sun I was able to return and get somewhat caught up with work.  I let my clients know that I had a stable work option while I was still without power at home, and that left me the evenings to hang out with my family playing board games by lantern or sitting around the fire pit.

Now, as we enter week two with no power at home, we’ve started to get into a pretty good routine and have been able to meet work commitments even though we can’t work from home.  And my clients have all been understanding and appreciative of my efforts to keep them in the loop and work under sub-par conditions.

Devices Charging

Key Takeaway: Communication

  • Before a weather event, communicate with clients to see if there are any urgent items you can handle now in the event you lose power or internet.
  • As soon as possible, check in with your client to let them know how you are, and if your ability to work has been impacted.
  • Give yourself permission to take a moment to be still and deadline free.
  • Finding solutions is an important aspect of any freelancer's toolbox. It may not always be easy (I've worked in the backseat of my car while someone else drove to meet deadlines) but with a little creative problem solving, you can find a way to work.
  • Once you've found a reliable way to get back to work, let your clients know what changes in your availability may temporarily be in place based on your working conditions - especially if your availability has changed.