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Hurricane season 2012 arrives early as Alberto forms off South Carolina coast

Wow! That was quick. The first storm of the Atlantic hurricane season popped up this afternoon along the South Carolina coast.

TS Alberto 2012-01 051912 alert 1_winds_NWS-NHC

Residents of America's Eastern Seaboard and Gulf of Mexico coastlines officially go on alert each June 1.

But this afternoon the National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued its first advisory of the year, announcing the early arrival of Alberto as the first tropical storm of 2012.

Yes, it sounds like a baby announcement, which seems fitting since tropical storms and hurricanes have been given human names since 1953.

What does it take to get a name? Sustained surface wind speed of 34 knots (39 mph or 63 km/hr) qualify a system as a tropical storm.

If Alberto's winds continue at the current rate or get a bit brisker, the NHC says it could issue a tropical storm watch for parts of the South and North Carolina coasts tonight.

Preparation time: Here's a quick rundown of what you need to do to get ready physically and financially for a tropical storm, hurricane or other natural disaster.

First, gather items that can help you make it through the aftermath. The keys components are:

  • Water, and lots of it. Drinking water is paramount, but also fill up some containers with water you can use for personal hygiene (hand washing, teeth brushing).
  • Canned or other shelf-stable food. Yes, I used to work for a food manufacturer.
  • Changes of clothing. You'll likely be out of power for a while so you won't be able to do laundry. And even if you're limited to sponge baths with the water mentioned above, you'll feel better being able to at least put on a clean T-shirt.
  • Batteries, and lots of them. See the power outage reference above.
  • First aid kit.

Hurricane_preparedness_logo-NHCThose are just some of the items you'll need. Check out the full disaster survival kit the NHC suggests you have on hand in advance of any storm.

In addition, the NHC says any disaster prevention plan should include:

In addition to the materials to help you cope with a storm's destructive consequences, you also need to make financial preparations.

Have cash on hand. Not to harp on the loss of electricity, but when that happens, and it will, your bank and any businesses that are able to open also will be without power.

That means you won't be able to use ATMs and stores won't be able to process credit or debit card transactions. So get a supply of cash in varied denominations. Merchants will be very appreciative that you can pay for your $3 purchase with ones or a five dollar bill.

Have a credit card available: Although you likely won't be able to use it immediately, have at least one credit card with a big enough credit balance to get you through possible weeks of having to charge purchases. It also will come in handy if you have to live out of a motel for a while.

Get your insurance in order: Property insurers typically prevent changes to policies by customers in potential storm zones once a storm forms. That's why you need to look at your coverage soon -- sorry Carolinians for the unexpected hurdle here -- to ensure that your homeowner and rental coverage, as well as your auto policy, is up to date.

And don't forget about your medical insurance. If the worst happens and you or a family member is injured in the storm, you'll need to know what is and isn't covered.

Also have on hand your medical records. And refill any prescriptions that are running low as it might be a hassle to get them after a storm strikes.

Gather financial documents: In addition to your insurance and medical records, make sure you have handy any other important financial documents, as well as a list of your bank account numbers and Social Security numbers.

The best move is to make copies of all your financial documents and then put the originals in a safety deposit box or send them to a trusted relative who lives outside the storm's potential strike zone, otherwise known as the cone of probability.

And don't forget to download any financial info on your computer to a CD or flash drive.

If you have to file claims for storm damage, you'll need this data.

All of these copies (or originals if you decide to hang onto them) should go into a waterproof container that's easy to carry with you if you must evacuate.

Taxes, too: Speaking of claims, copies of tax records should be in your financial disaster kit.

The information will help if the storm is a major one and you file an amended tax return to get disaster tax relief sooner, rather than waiting until next filing season to file casualty loss claims.

I hope that the folks in South and North Carolina don't have to worry about any of this.

But as Tropical Storm Alberto proves, we never know what the weather will bring. So now is the time to get ready.

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