Hurricane Season 2023 finally is looking normal. After an historic detour to California for Hurricane Hilary, weather watchers and east coast residents are settling in for the start of the usual, busiest part of the annual tropical system season.
This week we have Tropical Storm Idalia whirling in the western Caribbean Sea, soon to head to the upper west coast of Florida. By the time it makes landfall on Sunshine State shores on Wednesday, forecasters say she could be a major hurricane.
Of course, Floridians would just as soon have an abnormal hurricane season. Many in the state are still trying to recover from Hurricane Ian's devastation just more than a year ago. But tropical storms are a fact of life, in Florida and basically all of the country's coastal areas.
Having lived on the Atlantic Coast of Florida for six years, I learned that getting ready for hurricanes is routine for residents of potential targets. But since I have a nagging helpful nature, here are a few hurricane preparation reminders.
If you don't live in a tropical storm target area, the following pieces of advice also work for the other types of wrath Mother Nature all too often unleashes elsewhere and at any time.
Basically, there are three areas that need pre-disaster attention. They are physical preparation, financial readiness, and dealing with tax implications afterwards.
Let's get to them.
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 natural 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, we fill with tap water for non-potable use 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);
- Reusable ice packets or freeze as much ice as you can in advance to use in food storage containers;
- 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 face masks left from living with the COVID-19 pandemic for the last couple of years — or cotton bandana or t-shirt to help filter the air;
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place; and
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities, and turn them on again when officials give you the all clear.
Be sure that in addition to your general first aid kit, you have enough of your prescription medications to get you through at least a couple of weeks. If there are widespread and prolonged power outages, your pharmacy may not be able to refill your medicine as quickly as you need it.
If your family includes older loved ones or people with special needs, you need to take added steps to ensure you and they make it through the disaster safely. My earlier post "Hurricane preparation tips for those who are older, have special needs" has details.
And don't forget about your furry family members. These 7 tips to ensure your pets' safety during a disaster cover the items you need to have on hand and/or the alternative plans you need to make to ensure your animals (and you!) make it through the event with the least possible adverse consequences.
Not critical, but welcome items: Your main goal is to make sure you, your family, and if possible, your property, come through the storm in the best shape possible. Going beyond necessities is one way to accomplish that.
Start by packing some clean clothes. When you can't use your washer and you're sweating through days without air-conditioning, you'll be glad you have a change of apparel.
Don't forget about shoes. Flip flops are great for the beach and lazy summer days around the house, but not for wading through debris-filled ponds and puddles left by 'canes' flooding rain. Make sure you have on hand, or on your feet, solid sneakers or other closed toe footwear.
Most of the items in the bullet-point list and these added ones should go into easily accessible waterproof bins or containers.
Finally, fill up your car's tank well before any storm warnings are issued. When the hubby and I lived in South Florida, we went through several tropical systems, including two hurricanes that made landfall in our area within three weeks of each other in 2004 (now you know why we came back to a noncoastal part of Texas!), and we saw plenty of long lines as gas stations as storms neared.
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.
And if you own a business, you need to make sure it is secured, physically and financially, for any approaching storm, too. You'll find some advice in this regard in my separate post noting 6 hurricane prep tips for businesses.
Post-storm recovery and tax help: Once a dangerous natural disaster has cleared your area, it's clean up time. Uncle Sam can help, even when it comes to taxes. When 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 personal or businesses disaster losses on your tax return. Since we're talking taxes, there are lots of issues. You can get an idea of what to expect as an individual taxpayer in my post discussing considerations in making a major disaster tax claim.
One factor when it comes to tax benefits is the timing of your disaster loss claim. You have the option to claim allowable damages on your personal federal tax return for the year in which the losses 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 noted in the financial prep section.
As we learned from our Florida storm experiences, when you're dealing with 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 on your disaster at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website of current disasters, as well as related Internal Revenue Service announcements, found on at IRS.gov's Around the Nation page with its state-by-state listings of tax-related disaster assistance.
Once the president declares and FEMA announces that a natural catastrophe is a major disaster, the IRS typically makes tax-related accommodations for affected taxpayers, such as postponing any impending tax deadlines.
More online storm help: In addition to the IRS, many 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. When that happens, take all the help, tax and otherwise, that you can get.
But before that, get ready. And stay safe.
You can find more on the current Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico tropical season at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's hurricane season update page.
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