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Hurricane season 2020 early start means it's time to prepare

TS Arthur 2020_NOAA 11 amEDT 17May20 alert

If there's anything positive in this COVID-19 pandemic (yeah, I'm grasping), it's that folks have stocked up on necessities. That's good for those who live in potential hurricane targets.

And it's especially fortuitous since, for sixth consecutive year, the Atlantic tropical storm season has started early.

A tropical depression formed on Saturday, May 16, afternoon. By nightfall, it had strengthened enough to become Tropical Storm Arthur, the first named storm of 2020. The hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 each year, but as we all know, Mother Nature often ignores us humans.

The best we can do in the unexpected situations is prepare, both physically and financially, including how disastrous storms might affect our taxes.

What's next: Most North Carolina coastal residents are under a tropical storm watch today. Arthur isn't expected to make landfall there or anywhere in the United States, but will trek close enough to produce high winds, heavy rain and potentially dangerous surf conditions.

Even better news is that the long-term forecast for Arthur is good for the Atlantic seaboard.

This first named storm of the year looks to be a fish, which in hurricane parlance is a system that heads harmlessly out to sea. Arthur's predicted to make that right turn late on Monday, May 18.

But if preseason hurricane predictions are correct, the United States could be the target of many more storms, including some major hurricanes.

Forecasts in late March from AccuWeather, The Weather Company and Colorado State University's (CSU) Tropical Meteorology Project all call for an above average 2020 hurricane season.

2019_Atlantic_hurricane_season_summary_map_Xyclone-Wikipedia
Could we be in for a replay of 2019? As this Xyclone/Wikipedia map of last year's storm paths shows, we saw 18 named storms, including six hurricanes, three of which were major.

So what's average? Usually, an average hurricane season has 12 named storms and six hurricanes. This year the average forecast, reached after reviewing data from 13 groups participating in CSU's Seasonal Hurricane Predictions program, is 17 named storms and eight hurricanes.

The various groups say as many as four tropical systems could grow into major hurricanes, which are those classified as category 3 or stronger. I'm hoping we don't see that many major 'canes, but I am tapping the prediction of 4 such systems as this weekend's By the Numbers featured figure.

Dorian
Hurricane Dorian wasn't just the first major hurricane of 2019, at one point it reached Category 5 status. This National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite loop shows Dorian churning over the Bahamas on Sept. 1, 2019. It was the most intense tropical system on record to strike that island chain and produced the worst natural disaster in Bahamian history.

We could see similar hurricane intensity this year, say forecasters, because of other weather patterns. The current El Niño climate conditions, which tend to suppress hurricane activity, are predicted to weaken to either a cool neutral El Niño or a weak La Niña this summer or fall. This indicates that by the time we reach peak hurricane season in August and September, storm activity would be picking up in the Atlantic as sea surface temperatures rise.

Say their names: When 2020 storms do achieve naming level, below are the monikers they'll receive, starting with the already bestowed Arthur. If they sound familiar, it's because they are recycled from the 2014 season.

Arthur Hanna Omar
Bertha Isaias Paulette
Cristobal Josephine Rene
Dolly Kyle Sally
Edouard Laura Teddy
Fay Marco Vicky
Gonzalo Nana Wilfred

 

Physical prep time: If you haven't already stocked your pantry for coronavirus quarantine, consider doing so now if you live in a potential tropical storm prone area. Remember, too, that once storms of any size make landfall, they move inland. You could be hundreds of miles from the nearest beach and still get flooded.

In addition to foodstuffs, you also need to make some hurricane financial and, yes, tax plans.

Regular readers probably remember that I went over much of this in a post back in January when a spate of early, and devastating, thunderstorms raked the eastern half of the country.  

To save you the click back (although feel free to do so if you want to read about my family's history with Mother Nature's mean side), here's the scoop.

Create a disaster kit: Each family or individual obviously will customize this collection to meet specific needs, 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.

They include:

  • 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 need to make financial preparations, too. This includes gathering in a stormproof container the following:

  • 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.

If you prefer, make copies of this material for your disaster kit/go bag and store the originals in a safe place, such as safe deposit box (in an area not in the storm's path) 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: The tax material noted above is not just because this is my 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.

More online storm help: 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 in the ol' blog's special Storm Warnings pages. 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.

Severe weather

I'm glad Arthur apparently is not going to be a big threat. I also hope that you don't need the storm advice and possible associated tax help this year. But just in case, it's always better to be careful and be prepared. 

Bonus post: Also check out my tumblr blog Tumbling Taxes for another storm prep reminder, along with a cool NOAA video of all the 2019 storms as seen by satellites. 

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