Fleeing Hurricanes E-Way?

Dana and I live in South Florida. We own both a 2017 Chevy Volt Premier and a 2017 Tesla Model S 100D. When hurricane Irma decided to come to town, we decided to get out of her way. You can read more about our maddening experience in my “Fleeing Irma’s Wrath” post.

ssvs-kb_128Before we evacuated I was debating whether to blow out of town in our Tesla or Volt… electric or gas?… I know… I know… What a terrible dilemma. In my earlier days I could have only dreamed of being in the position to have to face such a tough decision!

As we prepared to bugout of town, the more I thought about my decision, the more I realized this could actually turn out to be life or death. What if we ended up stuck on the road somewhere in Florida with either an empty battery or empty tank with the floodwaters, wind, and fury of Irma bearing down on us?

The total range I’d been getting on the new Tesla was close to 350 miles per charge, and I knew if I took it easy on the accelerator I could get a lot more. Some hypermiling madman in Belgium had managed to squeeze 560 miles out of his 100D. The total range of the Chevy Volt, dead dinosaurs and electric combined was 400 miles (50 miles on pure electric and 350 on gas).

September 6th the day before my birthday turned out to be the day we evacuated. It was stormy that day and power had gone out more than once. I ended up driving around town early in the day taking care of last minute errands as I waited for Dana to leave work at the school of the arts where she teaches dance. You could smell panic in the air as people lined up for blocks to get gas. The normally over aggressive Florida drivers were taking it to an all new level of something out of Mad Max. It felt good to be driving around in my Tesla, a piece of the future, with no worries about gas and no need for middle fingers and fistfights while stuck in some gas line from hell.

We planned to evacuate to Atlanta with a stop in Savannah for a couple of days to visit friends. Savannah was 428 miles from our home in Florida. If we took the Tesla it would mean stopping once at a supercharger along the highway. Out of caution I planned on stopping at every supercharger on the way because I could not take the chance of running out of juice in the midst of a large power failure. Superchargers were spaced out about every 100 miles along all the major arteries in Florida. So stopping at every supercharger would give me a huge safety margin. Thank you Elon Musk! This 100 mile spacing meant that even if one supercharge was out of commission from a blackout, I could still reach two or maybe even three more down the road. If we took the Volt we would have to refuel once, but refueling carried the same risks as using superchargers. If the power went out there was no guarantee the gas pumps would be pumping and the already terrible gas lines could always get worse. There was also the very real possibility of gas stations running out of gas. That had already happened in parts of South Florida.

We did not have time to lose if gas stations ran dry or the power went out as we fled. Irma was coming like a deadly freight train, and so far she was running on time. The more I thought about it the more I realized the Tesla was a far better choice for fleeing a hurricane. While it was a roll of the dice whether we would be hit with power or gas availability problems, there was the unavoidable certainty that we would be stuck in the mother of all traffic jams. The highways and local alternates were already backing up. The Tesla’s autopilot made traffic jams almost fun which was not true for the Volt. In the Tesla all I had to do was flick on autopilot and let the car do all the driving. As an added bonus, the fully electric Tesla would get far better economy in stop and go traffic than the Volt. If we were stuck in stop and go traffic burning gas the range on my Volt would go down requiring more sketchy fuel stops.

I was all set to take the Tesla then stopped! What about the aftermath? Once Irma was done kicking Florida in the Tallahassee, the power could be out for days or weeks. What if we wanted to go back to our home before the power was fully restored? The Tesla could not do that. It needed a working power grid to drive long distance. So at the last minute I crossed my fingers and we took the Volt.

With perfect hindsight I now see that we should have taken the Tesla. The biggest obstacle we faced fleeing and returning was not gas or electricity but traffic jams that dwarfed anything Los Angeles could ever hope to inflict on its people—and trust me I know traffic jams having lived in Los Angeles for 14 years. After seeing what a hurricane could do to the Florida power grid, there was no way we would have wanted to return to our house until the power was solidly back on. Did we want to be under curfews sitting in sweltering 90 degree heat and humidity without air conditioning? Not on your life! The next time we evacuate—and sadly I am sure there will be a far sooner next time thanks to global warming—we will take the Tesla.

P.S. If any of you out there are going to buy a Tesla Model S or X and looking for a referral code to save some dough, you’re more than welcome to use mine (as long as it lasts): http://ts.la/kevin1664