Living on the east coast, we get used to all sorts of storms.
They come and they go. Some rare ones cause tremendous and expensive damage. Often they fizzle out, or cause minimal damages.
But when the forecasts begin to converge, and the warnings go up, worry always sets in. A lot of it is fear of the unknown. Our imaginations begin to spin. Some of it is memory of storms past; what others experienced, and what we have narrowly escaped.
After Hurricane Irene swept over our community in 2011, a friend and I collaborated on a guide for future storms based on our experiences in that one. We have this ready to share with our neighbors when needed. And I may be sharing this among our neighbors, tomorrow.
But since this coming hurricane seems determined to rake our coast from South Carolina to New England, I decided to post an edited version here this evening. Much of it is common sense. A lot of it you may already be thinking about, yourself. But there may be an idea or two, or a link, you will find helpful.
For readers living elsewhere, you may find this useful even though a hurricane isn’t headed your way in the next few days. To set the mood, I’ve included some photos we took late this afternoon, showing building storm clouds on the James River.
Thunderstorms have been rolling through all evening, giving us an idea of what may be headed our way over the next five days.
Severe Storm Readiness Guide
Our unique location on the East Coast of the United States, near the ocean, large rivers, creeks, ponds and marshes means we need to pay attention and prepare when severe storms hit our community. Our main problems in this area come from flooding and by high winds knocking down trees. We also have to prepare to live without electricity for a while; whether for a few hours or for several days.
Loss of electricity affects us in many ways. Not only do we lose the use of our appliances at home, and often our well pumps and sewage grinder pumps; but many of the businesses we depend on may remain closed for several days as well. Depending on the intensity of the storm, our water supply may also be affected.
Most of us begin planning and preparing when a forecasted storm is still a few days away.
It is better to plan ahead and be prepared for a storm that could fizzle, than to find yourself unprepared as the storm rages outside.
1. Buy several days supply of food and beverage which don’t require refrigeration or cooking. Bottled water, juice boxes or bags, bottled tea, soft drinks, and adult beverages may be used as needed, and will keep. Each member of the family should have a gallon of water a day for each day that city or well water might be unavailable. It is wise to have sealed, gallon jugs of water in addition to water bottles.
Fruits, such as oranges, apples, melons, bananas, and grapes can be eaten for energy and require no preparation. Wash fruit and vegetables before the storm begins. Other foods you may find helpful include: bagels, crackers and peanut butter, energy bars, dried fruit, nuts, beef jerky, and prepared snack foods which don’t require refrigeration.
2. Check propane tanks for gas grills or camp stoves. A grill allows you to cook meat from the freezer should it begin thawing. A camping coffee pot, used on a propane stove, will provide you with coffee or tea on “the mornings after.”
3. Pack the freezer and refrigerator with ice before the storm. Store necessary perishables in a cooler with ice packs or ice when the power goes out, so you can use those items from the cooler, keeping your refrigerator closed. Generally, a refrigerator can be counted on to keep foods cold for no longer than twelve hours, without ice, when the power goes out.
4. Locate picnic items such as Handy-wipes, hand sanitizer, paper plates, insect repellent, plastic cutlery, and paper towels which will be useful if power and water go out for a few days.
5. Plan for light: When the power goes out, especially during the storm, it is a great comfort to have light. Candles and oil lamps can be extremely dangerous, especially if the wind gets inside through a broken window or damaged roof. Battery operated lamps and flashlights are a wise investment. There should be a lamp for each main living area, a flashlight for each person, and spare batteries for all lights. If you must use candles, have jar candles and a lighter available. They are safer than candle sticks.
6. Locate batteries: The radio becomes an important source of news about the storm’s progress. Each home needs at least one battery operated radio with spare batteries. Some parts of Williamsburg were still without power a week or more after recent severe storms. When planning how many spare batteries to have on hand, keep in mind it may be necessary to change the batteries several times before power is restored.
A laptop computer or tablet computer is especially useful. Not only can you use it for information from your home cable, or in any area with Wi-Fi, but many can be recharged from your car. The computer allows you to send and receive email to stay in touch with family and friends out of the area. Remember to protect tablets and cell phones in zip lock baggies whenever you are using them near water.
7. It is wise to take out money in cash before the storm to pay for necessities until the power is restored. Banks may be closed and without power for several days, and ATMs may not operate or run out of cash. Some businesses may be open for cash customers before their credit card systems are operating again.
8. If you have a generator, check it over before the storm. Make sure it has enough oil, and that you have spare oil and fuel. Check over your extension cords and have them close by. Never use a generator indoors. Make sure it has adequate ventilation.
9. Wash up all of the dirty laundry before the storm, and collect all clothing at the dry cleaners. It may be a week or more before you can do laundry again, and the dry cleaner might be damaged in the storm.
10. Move and secure small items that could get picked up by the wind and blown into your home or your neighbor’s home. Secure deck furniture, wind chimes, tools, flower pots and baskets, and decorative objects.
11. Locate important papers that you might need to take if you decide to evacuate. Place them in zip lock plastic bags to protect them. Other items such as photos can also be protected from water damage in zip lock bags.
12. Put together a “Grab and Go” bag that you can grab quickly should you need to leave your home during the storm. Have everything you will need to be away from home for up to a week, including your wallet, keys, medications, cell phone, clothing, toiletries, food, water, extra cash, insurance information, extra glasses, batteries, etc. During a violent storm, you might need to leave quickly and unexpectedly, so it is wise to be prepared.
13. Review the procedure for turning off the water line and natural gas flow to your home. Locate the tools you will need and put them where you can grab them quickly if you need to leave your home, or if your home sustains damage.
14. Move your vehicles to the safest area away from trees. You might keep one in the garage, and one outside, so that if your garage is crushed, you still have a vehicle.
15. Take photos of your home and property to serve as documentation for insurance purposes.
16. After listening to the forecast, decide whether to shelter in place or to evacuate. If you leave home, make sure neighbors, friends, and family know where you are going. Leave early enough so you aren’t caught in the traffic on the interstates. Unplug appliances, turn off your lights, lock your windows and doors, and secure valuables in a safe place. Take clothing, medication to last a week or more, ID, and insurance information with you.
It might be a wise choice to evacuate if you are concerned about large trees that may fall on your home, if you have a medical condition and might need emergency care, or if you live alone. Staying a few days with family, or in a local hotel which can provide meals and where you will have company during the storm, might be a wise choice.
If going to a shelter, take bedding, toiletries, food, beverages, and items to entertain yourself and any children in your family. If going to a hotel, take your battery operated lamp and radio in the event they don’t have electricity in the guest rooms.
Other items you might need during or after the storm include: various sized trash bags, zip lock bags for storage, tarps and rope for covering a damaged roof, a chain saw and extra gasoline, boots, a hooded rain jacket, a first aid kit, city and regional maps, and a small cooler for storing medicines which need refrigeration .
Here are some map sites showing expected storm surge for hurricanes of Categories 1-4 in Virginia. Other states have these same sorts of sites available, too:
During the storm
1. Watch the news and weather as long as you have power so you have an understanding of what to expect from the storm.
2. When the power goes off, immediately unplug appliances, turn off the TV, lights, and the stove, and shut down your computer. Remember that when the power comes back on, power surges can damage your electronics.
3. A stove left on can start a fire in your home when power is restored. Leave one light on somewhere in the house so you will know when the power comes on.
4. Find a safe location, away from windows, to wait out the storm. Keep a radio tuned to a station where you can get weather and news. Stay on the lower level of your home during high winds. If tornado warnings are issued, move to an interior bathroom, hallway, or basement. Take large pillows and possibly a mattress with you for comfort and to protect you should a tornado hit our area.
5. Stay dressed in comfortable clothing with sturdy shoes nearby in the event your home is damaged and you need to leave quickly.
6. It is recommended that you keep your doors locked during and after the storm. When power is out, criminals see this as an opportunity.
7. If communicating with family out of the area, use texts or email to conserve your cell phone battery.
After the Storm
1. Check you property carefully inside and out for damages. Photograph and document all damage.
2. Check on your neighbors. See if they are alright, and help them as you are able.
3. Keep the refrigerator, freezer, and cooler stocked with fresh ice.
4. Make certain that when you are not at your residence, you close and lock all of your doors and windows. If using a portable generator, turn it off, remove the power cords, and secure it. There are many people roaming the neighborhood looking for work after the storm, and it is wise to be cautious.
5. Watch for wild creatures who may have been displaced by the storm. If the waterways flood, animals who normally remain hidden may venture to higher ground around our homes.
6. If you have a chainsaw, please help clear roadways and driveways to keep nearby streets clear for emergency vehicles.
Any damage to your home incurred as a result of the hurricane can be lumped together under the deductible. Document the damage with photos as soon as possible. Make a written inventory of damaged property. Phone in your claim as soon as possible after the storm. Even if your agent’s office is closed, the claim center should be ready to assist you.
Hundreds of trees have fallen during ice storms and hurricanes Isabel and Irene in our community. Trees falling onto insured structures or vehicles will be covered by the insurance policy. The insurance company should pay both to remove the tree, and to fix or replace the insured property.
If your tree falls on your land, but doesn’t destroy insured property, you will have to pay to clean it up out of your pocket.
If a tree falls from one property onto a neighboring property, it is more complicated. Technically, (in Virginia) if the tree was not considered a hazard before the storm, and the owner isn’t negligent in his care of the tree, then it becomes the problem for the neighbor where the tree lands. Good neighbors work together to solve these issues and maintain harmony. Many residents in or community go out with chain saws the morning after the storm, to clear fallen trees out of the streets and to help clean up fallen limbs and trees in their own and neighbors’ yards.
In the days after a storm, licensed arborists and roaming people with chain saws swarm over the neighborhood. The neighborhood also fills with contractors fixing tarps on homes and offering to do various repairs.
Before contracting with anyone, it is wise to not only get several estimates, but also check to make sure the contractor has liability coverage.
Do not pay 100% in advance, limit your down payment, and never pay in cash.
Make sure to get written estimates and receipts for all work done if you are making an insurance claim.
Preparation is the best defense. We can not always control the weather headed our way, but we certainly can control how we prepare ourselves to survive it.
Neighbors seem to always pull together to weather whatever storms may come our way. Let’s all make preparation and safety a top priority, and look out for our neighbors as we would have them look out for us.
If a storm should cause widespread damage to our community, we need to check on our neighbors and offer what assistance we can.