Hurricane season began yesterday. It will run through Nov. 30.
We've been pretty lucky for the last few 'cane seasons. Forecasters think that our luck might hold.
As mentioned in an earlier item about storm-related state sales tax holidays, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last month that it expects the 2009 hurricane season to be "near normal," with nine to 14 named storms.
But, noted Dr. Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, folks should not be lulled into a sense of false security. "Prepare for each and every season regardless of the seasonal outlook," said Bell. "Even a near- or below-normal season can produce landfalling hurricanes, and it only takes one landfalling storm to make it a bad season."
When the weather experts talk abort hurricane preparation, they mean installing shutters, stocking up on bottled water and shelf-stable food items (yes, I used to work for a grocery manufacturer) and making sure you have candles, flashlights (and batteries) and/or a generator.
Prepare financially, too: In addition to getting your home ready for hurricane season, you also need to be making some financial preparations now, too, well before any storm strikes.
Start with a large plastic box that has a sealable lid. If a storm does break a window or flood your home, you'll want to make sure your financial data is protected. Now for what goes in it.
Head to your bank's ATM for some cash. I know, a lot of folks can't spare any amount from their their accounts before they absolutely must have the money. In that case, put a note in your financial disaster kit reminding you that when a storm is imminent, you need to get some cash. You can't wait until the bad weather hits; any resulting power outages -- and with hurricanes they can last a while -- will mean you won't have access to your cash.
Also make sure you break up those $20 that the ATM spits out. Any businesses that are able to open after a storm aren't likely to be keen on making change.
Next on your financial storm prep list is a credit card. You'll want it to be a piece of plastic with a sufficient credit balance to see you through possible weeks of having to charge purchases.
Insurance inspection: Your storm-proof container also should become home during the storm season to copies of your insurance policies (health, home, auto), medical records, bank account numbers, Social Security card, and any other financial documents you have on hand.
What about the original documents? Put them in a safety deposit box or send the info to a trusted relative who lives outside the storm strike zone.
A further note about your insurance. Make sure your policies are up-to-date and in force, especially your homeowners policy. Most insurers will not let you make changes once a storm is rolling across the ocean en route to your house.
Is your property adequately covered? Have you made additions or improvements that need to be taken into account? What about your deductible? Is it at a level at which you are financially comfortable?
FiveCentNickel.com has a good discussion on hurricane season insurance issues. One of the coverages he discusses is flood insurance. You also can find more on that type of federally-issued policy in Time to prepare for Mother Nature's less maternal side.
Other types of data: If your financial information is stored on your computer, be sure to download it to a CD or flash drive and drop that into your disaster kit.
Also take photos, either Polaroids or digital, of your home, auto and other property before a storm hits. That will make claim filing easier and should help you answer any questions your insurance company might have.
Don't overlook your taxes: Also put copies of your tax records in your weather-proof bin.
Although taxes won't be on the top of your list after a catastrophe, remember that if you are in a presidentially declared disaster area, you have tax filing or return amending options that could get you some additional money, and more quickly, from Uncle Sam.
Such preparation is easier to do for hurricanes, since you typically get more advance notice of any impending storm. But regardless of where you live, you should have a financial disaster kit on hand in an easy-to-grab container (even a giant Baggie will work) that you can take to the safe place you head to as an escape from nature's fury.
Here's hoping you don't ever need to use the kit's contents. But unfortunately, truly terrible weather hits every part of the country (and world) year-round, so it truly pays to be prepared for any disaster well before it hits.