Massive, potentially dangerous storm system underscores need for safety, financial and tax preparations
I thought I'd have a couple of months before I had to worry, or post, about severe weather, but Mother Nature today is in a proper snit.
The official National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center has for days been talking about upper level lows and Gulf of Mexico air masses.
I prefer the description by Texas songwriter/singer Terry Allen in The Lubbock Tornado (I Don't Know): "But when a high-pressure zone hits a low, somethin' gotta give, yeah somethin' gotta go."
That's why folks from down here in Central Texas to the Midwest, upper and otherwise, to the South and the East Coast, MidAtlantic and New England are preparing for outbreaks over the next couple of days of thunderstorms, high winds, large hail, sleet, snow, rain and yes, tornadoes.
The twister immortalized (at least among discerning Texas music fans) by Allen was my first personal interaction with deadly weather.
Stormy family history: Sure, I had listened in awe for years as my mom, at my and my brother's urging, repeatedly recounted how she and dad escaped a deadly flash flood back when they were newlyweds in Southwest Texas. We thumbed through the yellowed newspaper clippings of the water's wreckage at each of her tellings.
But I was around for the 1970 tornado that tore through the Hub City, at that time the most destructive on record. And I had cousins there!
My mom's sister and her family weren't hurt and their home wasn't damaged, but my uncle's appliance store was essentially demolished. We knew this soon after the tornado hit because my fierce and determined grandmother got through to her daughter even though phone lines (just land back then) were reportedly all down, for a status report.
So I take weather threats seriously.
You should, too. As this unusually early <cough> climate change <cough> serious and dangerous weather system moves eastward.
Weather and disaster planning: That means staying on top of weather reports and always having a go bag ready.
A few years ago, you could count on the historic patterns to determine when you needed to be ready. Spring thunderstorms and tornadoes. Summer and early fall hurricanes. Floods from those weather systems. Winter storms.
Now Mother Nature seems to spend much of her time as Mommie Dearest, going off on rages without warning or respect for traditional patterns.
So I suggest making at least preliminary preparations that will help you make it through a bad patch produced by bad weather.
Each family or individual disaster kit obviously should be customized to meet your specific needs, notably such as medications and other items anyone needs for daily life. But there are some basics to get you through a major storm or disaster.
- Water, one gallon of water per person per day, for drinking and sanitation
- Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
- Matches and candles
- Hand-powered can opener, paper plates, plastic utensils and cups, paper towels and garbage bags
- Bleach and disinfectants
- Battery-powered radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Cell phone charger, especially one that be used in an auto if house power is out
- First Aid kit
- Whistle to signal for help
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
- Blankets and pillows for protection during the storm and, if possible, to rest afterwards
- Dust mask or cotton t-shirt, to help filter the air
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
- Pet supplies and other items or plans for your animals' safety
Financial kit components: You also definitely want to have a financial disaster kit ready, too.
Here you need to gather:
- A pre-storm inventory, just in case you need the info to file an insurance claim
- Medical records of everyone in the family
- Other important financial documents, such as bank and other financial account numbers
- Latest filed tax return and material needed to file your current taxes
- A credit card with enough available credit to cover any post-storm needs
- Cash in case power outages make using a credit card or accessing an ATM impossible.
Put all these documents in a waterproof, easily carried container. If you prefer, make copies for your disaster kit/go bag and store the originals in a safe place, such as safe, safe deposit box or by sending them to a trusted friend or relative outside your danger/storm zone.
You also can put the copies on a thumb drive, CD or use cloud storage. Remember, though, that electrical issues could limit your access, especially immediately after the storm.
More about storms and taxes: I'm sure you noted the mention above about tax material.
That's not just because I'm a tax writer and you came here to a tax blog. It's because if your storm damage is caused by what is ultimately deemed a major disaster by the president, you could qualify for tax relief.
In most instances, this relief is obtained by claiming disaster losses on your tax return.
Depending on the timing, you could find it better to claim the damages on your federal return for the tax year in which it actually occurred. Or you might be better off by filing an amended tax return for the prior tax year.
If you opt for the 1040-X amended route, this is where you'll need those previous tax documents.
As for current year taxes, the federal spending bill enacted in late December 2019 included some disaster relief provisions.
The new law ends the wait that many storm victims endured when a disaster hit during filing season. Now affected filers get an automatic 60-day filing extension.
It also provided a way that some folks who are dealing with a major disaster's impacts can get quick financial assistance. They can take withdrawals of up to $100,000 from tax-favored retirement plans to help pay for their recovery costs and not face the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.
This withdrawal option was allowed under several recent disasters, but only after case-by-case consideration by the Internal Revenue Service.
Now the new relief generally applies to individuals who suffered losses in a qualified disaster area beginning after 2017 and ending 60 days after the date of the bill's enactment, which would be Feb. 20, 2020.
Safety planning: Last, but definitely not the least, your preparations should be a family safety plan.
If you stay in your home, by choice or because the storm hits too quickly, everyone should know the safest place in the structure to head to as danger approaches.
If you have time and plan to leave, have an evacuation route established.
And if you and yours are in different places when the storm hits, create a contingency place of how to get in touch or where to meet as soon as it's safe.
More help links: The IRS and other government resources can help you deal with a natural disaster.
You also can find more (much, much more) on dealing with disasters on the ol' blog's special Storm Warnings pages can help. This multi-page collection of posts created over the years offers advice on preparing for (that's where a link to this post will be), recovering from and helping those who face the many ways that that weather goes wild.
Here's hoping you don't need the storm advice and possible associated tax help. But just in case, it's always better to be careful and be prepared.
Well, the wind is starting to pick up, so I'm going to sign off for a while and make sure things are secured here. I'll see y'all on the other side.