I always look forward to spring, but when it arrives, I wonder why.
In addition to warmer weather and new growth in my garden (yes, even after last month's Arctic Blast!), the seasonal change also brings severe weather.
I'm charging up all my devices this afternoon, since if the forecast pictured above of potentially severe weather comes true, we'll likely lose power.
A few hours without electricity and the associated conveniences it provides is not bad. But when Mother Nature goes full-out Mommy Dearest, the ramifications are, well, disastrous.
Stormy weather's regular, and early, arrival: Folks north and northwest of me in Austin got a taste of damaging storms on Monday night. Twisters were spotted and non-tornadic winds topping 70-miles-per-hours took down buildings in a small Hill Country town.
The storms that popped up this week actually are late to the dangerous weather parade of 2021. Several deadly weather systems already have struck the southern United States during the not-quite-completed first quarter of the year.
All of this just goes to show that there actually aren't firm storm seasons any more. Tornadoes have been popping up in winter more often. One tornado tracking website has counted 37 confirmed funnel touchdowns in the United States so far in 2021.
And forecasters warn that this year's strong La Niña pattern could supercharge 2021's tornado season, setting up a potentially deadly season similar to that of 2011.
Similarly, the last couple of years, hurricanes have formed before the official June 1 start of tropical storm season. That's prompted some in the weather world (and Congress) to call for a longer formal hurricane season. The proposal under consideration would move hurricane season's start date up to May 15 beginning in 2022.
Get ready now: That's why I'm posting my annual disaster preparedness blog item early this year. Also, it keeps my mind off the impending dangerous weather headed my general direction.
There are basically three areas that need pre-disaster attention:
- Physical preparation,
- Financial readiness and
- Tax implications afterwards.
Here's a quick look at each.
Physical prep and precautions: The first step is to get ready for the physical inconveniences that are likely after any natural disaster.
Regardless of what type of nature threat is common for your area, you'll likely be without the usual modern conveniences of electricity, water and accessibility to provisions if the storm does a lot of widespread damage.
So stock up your pantry and overall disaster kit now.
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 that will help get you through a disastrous time:
- Water, one gallon of water per person per day, for drinking and sanitation.
TIP: You don't necessarily have to buy all the water you might need. The hubby and I keep a couple of flats of bottled drinking water in our laundry room. But we also have a stash of empty plastic gallon milk jugs in our garage that, when storm season approaches (that's today!), we fill with tap water for use in our bathrooms if need be.
- Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food (canned meat, protein bars, dry cereal, dry milk you can mix with water, energy drinks)
- 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 — if you don't have any left from living with the COVID-19 pandemic for the last year-plus — or cotton bandana or 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
Most of these items should go into easily accessible waterproof bins or containers.
Also, as any severe weather approaches, exchange your sandals, flip flops or other lightweight footwear for sturdier shoes, such as sneakers. If you have to go outside after a disaster, you don't want to expose your toes et al to dangerous debris that'll be strewn around.
Financial kit components: You also need to make financial preparations, too. This includes gathering in a stormproof container the following:
- 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.
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 (preferably in an area not in a storm's path; this generally is easier to do when planning for an incoming hurricane) 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. So have a paper copy of your insurance policy and contact information handy so you can reach out for that help as soon as it's safe to do so.
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.
That tax time shifting is just one of the many considerations in making a major disaster tax claim.
In 2004, the hubby and I went through two hurricanes within two weeks, so I know that when you're dealing the emotional and physical effects of a natural disaster, taxes are not top of mind. But when you get a handle on your situation, you do need to look into how the tax code might be able to help.
Also keep an eye any Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and related Internal Revenue Service announcements about the disaster you went through. Once the president and FEMA announce that it's a major disaster, the IRS typically makes other accommodations for taxpayers, such as postponing any impending tax deadlines.
More online storm help: In addition to the IRS, other federal government resources can help you deal with a natural disaster.
You also can find more (much, much more) on 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.
I hope that you don't need the storm advice and possible associated tax help this or any year. But odds are you will.
Already, there are 19 disasters on FEMA's 2021 list of major declarations. Yes, some of those were from late in 2020; it sometimes takes a while for a final major disaster determination to be reached.
The IRS has seven 2021 disasters on its list of tax actions related to this year's natural catastrophes. The tax agency also keeps track on a state-by-state basis of tax-related disaster assistance at its Around the Nation page.
If your area sustains damages from storms, check those sites periodically (and here, too) for updates on status classifications and associated available government and tax assistance.
But before that, get ready. And stay safe.
You also might find these items of interest:
- A dozen disaster scam warnings
- File major disaster claims on Form 4684
- Disaster donations' dual payoff: Gifts provide immediate disaster help for victims, donor tax break later