Hurricane Shopping in NYC: And Then There Were But Keychain Flashlights Left

A weird week in New York City is only getting weirder. On Tuesday, for the first time since 1884, earthquake tremors were felt in the Big Apple; which, not surprisingly, came with no warning from earthquake prognosticators. Now, NYC is bracing for its first hurricane since 1985. (Any readers game for trying to calculate the odds of NYC getting hit by an earthquake and a hurricane in the same week, I’d love to see your estimates.) As I write, I’m watching out my window as people in the building across the street tape their windows. Which reminds me, I need duct tape!

Now that the MTA has announced that all NYC public transportation will be shut down beginning on noon Saturday, people are out in force doing some last-minute hurricane shopping. So we decided to venture out and do a little reporting on what’s left, and what’s not. I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and there are four drugstores, one  hardware store, and a RadioShack within a three block radius of my apartment. As of 2:30 this afternoon, there were no full-size flashlights left, a scant amount of duct tape available ($8 for 60 yards), and zero D or C batteries. At the hardware store, a scrum broke out among a few elderly ladies over a box of headlamps that were left. Yes, headlamps. The best we could do was a set of mini candles for $1.99, and a key chain flashlight for $9.99.

Things will surely get worse tomorrow, especially with Hurricane Irene drink specials popping up at bars around the city tonight. People are bound to wake up in the morning hung over, and unprepared.

Assuming many of you live in the mid-Atlantic and are prepping for Hurricane Irene, we’d love to hear your stories of Hurricane economics at play.


Amazon Prime. $4 overnight shipping. Some of the cheaper flashlights are sold out, but even with the shipping charge most of the rest are pretty reasonable.

Mike B

Since MagLite came on the market there is absolutely no reason that every American shouldn't have a durable flashlight that they can pass down to their children. There isn't a run on KitchenAid mixers every time MasterChef airs because everyone has that one they got from their mothers 20 years ago and it still works perfectly. Remember that post about high quality products? Well this is a situation that should have been made moot by the availability of high quality products.


The county executive of Suffolk County stated that he will come down very hard on those who price gouge. Never understood why people get angry over price gouging. Things are scarce and something is in high demand. The seller should get whatever he can for it. Another example of poorly educated politicians.

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I'd like to know what law he thinks prohibits a retail store from changing its prices whenever it feels like it.

The politician is either making this threat because he is seriously ignorant of the law—in which case, he deserves to be shamed for his ignorance—or because he is being deceitful to score political points—in which case, he deserves to be shamed for telling lies to the voters.


Not sure about Suffolk County, but here in NC we actually have a law about price "gouging." Once a state of emergency is declared, a retailer may not charge more than the average price for the 60 days preceding the deceleration of emergencies. This law remains in effect for 45 days or longer if the governor extends it. This is for any goods or services consumed as a direct result of the emergency or “to preserve, protect, or sustain life, health, safety, or economic well?being.” Still stupid, but it is a law.

Eric M. Jones

If I have a gun and you have a I have a gun AND your flashlight.

Brian Rust

It shows you havn't experienced a hurricane since 1985. Tape doesn't accomplish anything.... Scroll down to the widely relied upon methods

If your area is sold out of Duct tape I'd get ahead of the rush and buy your Goo-Gone as well since come monday everyone is going to be trying to get the residue off their windows...


Depending on your definitions, I count three hurricanes to hit NYC in the last 100 years (1985, 1972, and 1938) so let’s round to one every 30 years (or 1 every 1560 weeks). Estimating frequency with so few data points is tricky, but if the last earthquake occurred in 1884, let’s make a WAG and say 1 every 150 years (or 1 every 7800 weeks). So the probability of both happening on any given week is 1 in 12,168,000 (of course hurricanes generally happen in hurricane season which is about 16 weeks long, so the probability of both happening on a given week in hurricane season is 1 in 3,744,000).
But the question was what are the chances of both happening together? Well, if we expect an earthquake every 150 years, what are the chances that a hurricane occurs within a week of it? First there’s a 2/3 that the earthquake happens outside of hurricane season. Then there’s a 29/30 chance that no hurricane hits that year. This makes a 1 in 90 chance that they both happen in the same season. This leaves a 2 week window in a 16 week season for the earthquake to hit in, so a 1 in 8 chance. This gives a 1 in 720 chance of a hurricane striking NYC within +/-1 week given that an earthquake has occurred. If earthquakes happen every 150 years we can expect this event every 108,000 years.


Ted Carnahan

I hereby declare that Philips was statistician-sniping, and you rose to the bait. Well met!


One thing I've found after experiencing a few hurricanes in the past 20 years living in the Va Beach area is the lack of real understanding about the best items to buy for "preparation". I guess my amazement is in a non-rush to camping based equipment. Not that people need tents or sleeping bags, at least we hope not, but the various camp stoves, lanters, coolers, and other kits would make sense in areas where a loss of power is expected. In the early 2000's, Isabelle knocked out power in that region for a week or longer, many trees blocked neighborhood roads for days, and people couldn't leave. Those with generators fared well, along with those who had gas stoves or a camp stove with propane. Others stocked up on food and supplies, only they couldn't cook the food. I know many did fine, however, it seems some forget to think of the "how" after buying the "what".


It's probably a little short notice but a solar panel with an DC to a/c inverter and a battery can really help if the power is out after the storm.


When my power was out for a week some years ago, I found those little lanterns powered by AA batteries were great for reading after dark. Plenty of AA batteries on hand. And a little emergency wind-up radio to find out what was going on, or dig out the old Walkman radio and hope to find spare AAA batteries. Please, people - no candles! if you have pets or kids, candles are even more dangerous. I don't know how they did it in the olden days, with candles.

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Strangely enough, how they did it back in the day was through using something called a "hurricane": a glass cylinder, taller than the candle, that you use to enclose all but the top of the candle. This protects your home from the flame, and your flame from the wind. If you know what a standard kerosene lamp (far more sensible than a candle, BTW) looks like, the top half is a hurricane. For more rugged situations, they used something called a "lantern", which is a metal and glass box enclosing the candle on all sides.

An exposed flame is a menace, especially in inexperienced hands. A flame behind a solid wall of glass (and topped by metal, in the case of a lantern) is not.


times like these remind me I have to keep my BOB ready at all times. Thankfully I always have a flashlight with me.

Elizabeth N.

I have nothing smart to say to this post. Just wanted to say thanks for the post, it made me chuckle, and best of wishes as the hurricane comes. Hopefully all the preparation will be for nothing and that things will be back to normal by Monday!


I always love watching what people buy at the grocery store. I've seen people buying gallons of milk, 20 pound bags of flour, loaf after loaf of bread, and dozens of eggs. Seriously, people, how much French Toast do you anticipate making? If power does go out, most of that stuff will be useless after a few days anyway. And if it's less than a few days, you don't need all that food. Yet, people give in to the panic. Crazy. How often does the average person use flour? Unless you are a hardcore baker, it's not often. And I doubt making fresh-baked cookies is a priority in a disaster.

Steve S.

Maybe they're making hardtack - yum!


If you're planning to get a radio or flashlight for emergencies get this one -

It's got a weather radio, AM/FM radio, and LED flashlight and it charges with a solar panel or wind-up hand crank so you don't have to worry about batteries.

Now you can listen to the radio while you're power is out and you're wondering what to do with all the eggs, milk, water, and toilet paper you bought :)