Prepare now to avoid the rush before the storm
With hurricanes increasing in frequency, these easy pre-hurricane season tips will save you a lot of time before the storms arrive.
There is no mistaking the reality that hurricane season is getting more active year over year. That also means the potential for you to find yourself in the path of any strength storm is increasing too.
Earlier this year, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center announced that they were updating their 30-year historical hurricane activity reference period to 1991-2020 from 1981-2010. The significance of this change is that the last few years of consistently above-average hurricane activity has moved NOAA’s “average” standard higher than it previously was.
In other words, there have been so many hurricanes lately that NOAA had to raise the bar.
They aren’t the only organization observing this trend, either.
The World Meteorological Organization (the UN Agency tasked with the collection and distribution of weather data amongst 193 nations) recently announced that the Greek Alphabet would no longer be used after a given hurricane season runs out of names on the assigned list like it did during the prolific 2020 season. Citing the likelihood that the list would run out again due to overactive storm seasons, the committee elected to create a permanent list of supplemental names.
It seems clear that the Atlantic seaboard is in for the sixth-straight “above average” hurricane season.
The unfortunate reality is that it doesn’t take a major category 4 or 5 storm to damage your home and substantially impact your daily life. Even a weaker tropical storm can cause power outages and flooding.
Instead of being caught in the mad rush to prepare for a storm that is heading your way, here are a series of useful tips you can take right now to get a leg up on storm-proofing your home.
Easy hurricane preparations for outside your home
When a storm shows up on your doorstep, there is unfortunately little you can do about the actual conditions; the rain is going to fall and the wind is going to blow.
What we can control are the things a storm can impact that will then damage our home or property.
Trees and landscaping
Even a Tropical Storm can pack winds in excess of 70mph, with gusts that can top that in short bursts. While normally healthy trees should be able to withstand those gusts, a not-so-healthy tree or even a dying limb may reach the breaking point and fall.
When these trees or limbs fall during an otherwise minor storm, and damage your roof or wipe out your power lines, that minor storm can quickly turn into a major problem.
Without an intact roof to protect it, rain water can pour into your home causing untold amounts of damage to your home’s interior. And without power, stored food may spoil, sump pumps may stop running, and your home is suddenly unable to maintain a temperature you want it to without HVAC.
Spotting dead trees and limbs
Before a storm arrives, take the time to quickly survey your property, and your adjacent neighbors property. Make sure to spend enough time looking at each tree from trunk to tip, and all the branches.
Healthy trees should have obvious signs of growth (leaf buds or leaves) on their branches, and the tree bark should appear uniform and unbroken. All the branches should look roughly the same in leaf growth and bark quality. The tree should actually look “healthy”.
- Action Tip: Any tree on your property that “doesn’t look right” should be evaluated by a qualified arborist (a tree expert). If you spot these conditions on a neighbor’s tree that may be at risk of hitting your home or power lines, it is worth having a discussion with that neighbor about having the tree evaluated.
Generally, arborists are easy to find, and can quickly evaluate all your trees with qualified expert recommendations, at minimal cost to you.
Bushes, planting areas, and nicely mulched beds tend to make a home look really nice from the street, but those planting areas can also cause heavy rainfall to stay against your house instead of draining away. This can cause water infiltration to an otherwise dry basement area.
- Action Tip: Trim bushes and shrubbery near the home so the plants cannot swing in the wind and damage your home.
- Action Tip: Before mulching planting beds, make sure the soil underneath slopes away from your home and leave a 4-6” gap between the mulch and your foundation. This will prevent water from gathering against your foundation during heavy rainfall.
Rainfall and water management
Water damage can often be among the costliest home damage to repair, and once water enters your home mold can also be a concern. Thankfully, a typical home is designed to resist water entry as long as we do our part to help it along.
The best part: surveying your home for water concerns doesn’t require a severe storm to happen first.
- Action Tip: During the next downpour, take a few minutes to throw on a raincoat and walk around your property. Take pictures of where the water tends to pool, and where runoff tends to collect and form streams. Look for places where water gets caught by obstructions instead of smoothly exiting your property, or where the water wants to channel. Consider any changes you can make to allow the water a smoother path away from your home.
After the storm, use the pictures to either correct some issues yourself, or consult with a landscape designer to mitigate the problems.
Gutters and Downspouts
The gutters and downspouts on your home exist to capture and channel rainwater away from your foundation. Just like the previous tip, if water is allowed to pool around your foundation, it will eventually begin entering through the foundation walls. It’s only a matter of time. Especially when you consider the amount of water that could pool during a heavier downpour.
To put this in perspective, 2” of rain falling on 1,500 square feet of roof (roughly the roof size of an average 1200 square foot home) will produce almost 2,000 gallons of runoff.
If a Tropical Storm or hurricane is in the forecast, you can likely expect many times that much rain to fall.
- Action Tip: Clean your home’s gutters or outsource this task to a professional. Consider having a gutter cover/filter installed that allows only water to enter and not debris.
- Action Tip: Check all your downspouts, and make sure the downspout ejects water at least 10 feet from the base of your foundation.
In many cases, these easy tips to “storm-harden” the outside of your house will go a long way towards preventing damage from severe storms.
But what happens if the storm gets past your outer defenses and starts to affect the interior?
Preparation tips for inside your home
Even if the storm overwhelms your exterior defenses, all is not completely lost. There are just as many simple steps we can take to prevent a damaged home from becoming a much larger catastrophe.
Water ingress and sump pumps
If you have a sump pump in your basement, then your home has experienced water before. Sump pumps sit in pits that are designed to collect the water below your foundation and pump it out to a place where it can safely exit your property without running back to the house.
During any normal storm, you may see water slowly fill the pit until it reaches the level where the sump pump activates and pumps the water away. When the pump removes enough water that the pump activation float resets, the pump shuts off.
During more severe weather, especially heavy downpours, that sump pump will work harder and for longer periods removing the water that is collecting there at a faster than normal rate. If the pump dies for any reason, the basement will begin to flood rapidly.
- Action Tip: Check the tag on your pump. Look for a manufacturer's date and if your pump is more than five years old, you should replace it regardless of condition.
- Action Tip: Check the outlet that your pump is plugged in to and determine if anything else is plugged into the same circuit (you can do this by turning off the breaker for that circuit and seeing if anything else turns off). Consider moving those other items to a different circuit.
During heavy storms and frequent work, the pump will have a higher average draw which may cause the circuit breaker to trip if there are too many loads on it. If this happens without you noticing, the basement will flood.
Protect your valuables
In this case, “valuables” means all the things you cannot replace no matter what you do. Pictures hanging on the wall, storage of digital pictures, important documents, and even important memories that are on paper. Many of these items are crucial to getting back to normal if damage does occur, and many also cannot be replaced.
- Action Tip: Purchase an inexpensive digital document scanner from your local office supply store. Spend an easy afternoon collecting all the important documents you have in your home (passports, birth certificates, deeds, insurance papers, social security cards, bank statements, etc.) and scanning those all to a digital format.
Do the same with any physical pictures you have hanging around your house, or use a digital camera to take a picture of the picture. Often, the memory is worth more than just the quality of the image.
Upload all of these digital files to a cloud storage service of your choice, or if security is a concern for you, save all the digital files on a few weatherproof USB drives. Place one drive in a secret location in your vehicle, and place another in a sheltered place in your home.
- Action Tip: To further protect all the important things you just collected and scanned, consider purchasing a fireproof/waterproof document safe. These inexpensive safes will give you a place to safely store your irreplaceable documents and protect them against floods or fires.
Protect against power outages
During a storm, just about everything gets worse if the power goes out. Climate control shuts off, water pumps die out, and cold food storage becomes a race against time.
Worse yet, if your home does not have a landline, then you are dependent on your cell phone for communication. In an emergency, battery power can be critical.
- Action Tip: Consider purchasing a few portable battery packs with shelf-life design. They are inexpensive and have USB ports, meaning a solid source of emergency phone power that is still portable.
- Action Tip: Consult with your local Cummins Home Generator Dealer for a quick and painless estimate on a standby generator. These generators start automatically during an outage and keep HVAC systems, sump pumps, and cold storage operating as normal regardless of the weather.
Prepare now to avoid the rush before the storm
You’ve seen this before: as soon as a named storm is given a landfall prediction, the panic buying and preparations will start. Finding supplies will be harder than ever and suddenly your list of things that needs to get done will grow faster than you can check items off.
Why not take a few things off that list now, and give yourself some peace of mind that you’ve already addressed a lot of the bigger questions for your home preparation?
The storms are coming and they’re predicted to be more frequent. The time to prepare is now.
And if you want the ultimate peace of mind that ensures your home will never be without reliable power, regardless of the conditions outside, reach out to your nearest friendly Cummins Home Generator Dealer. All it takes is a quick home survey and you’ll know exactly what you’ll need for the gold standard of storm preparation: a backup generator.