September 30 is National PrepareAthon! Day – Be Smart. Take Part. Document and Insure Your Property

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With signs of fall creeping up across the country, families may be feeling as if the hurricane season is over. The experts say no. In fact, September is not only the peak of hurricane season, September 30 is National PrepareAthon! Day the perfect time to take stock of disaster plans.

Today, National Hurricane Center Director Dr. Rick Knabb joined forces with Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson during a national satellite media tour to raise awareness about flood and hurricane safety, prevention and financial protection options.

“Hurricanes are not just a coastal problem,” said Knabb. “Their impacts can be felt hundreds of miles inland. You need to find out what types of hazards could happen where you live, and then start preparing for how to handle them.”

Chapman-Henderson concurs. “If a disaster strikes, having the proper insurance for your home is the best way to ensure you will have the necessary financial resources to help you repair, rebuild, or replace whatever is damaged.”

Before a disaster strikes, get #HurricaneStrong with these tips:

  • Be Smart. Take Part. Document and Insure Your Property. Have an insurance check-up. Coverage amounts, deductibles, and payment caps can vary significantly. Consult with your insurance professional to be sure your policy is right for you. Make updates based on new purchases, renovations, increases in property value, or increases in costs to rebuild or replace items. Buy flood insurance. This is not part of your homeowners’ policy and there is a 30-day waiting period before coverage begins.
  • Know your evacuation zone. Plan your escape route, where you will stay and what you will do with your pets. Storm surge is the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane regardless of wind speed.
  • Family Preparedness – Build a disaster supply kit. You’ll need to plan for two situations: Remaining in your home after a disaster or evacuating to a safer location. Keep cash on-hand because ATMs won’t function during a power outage.
  • Damage Prevention – Strengthen your home. The best place to start is with a Do-It-Yourself Wind Inspection to find out what needs attention. Make a list of what needs to be done, such as securing loose items that could be blown away by high winds. Trim your trees of dead branches that could become windborne missiles.
  • Community Service – Help your neighbor. Join with others to prepare for emergencies and participate in National PrepareAthon! Day on September 30.

For more information, visit ready.gov/prepare, flash.org or hurricanestrong.org.

View the Interactive MultiMedia Release

 

Keep Calm, Be Prepared, and El Niño On

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By John Zarrella – Former CNN Correspondent

El Niño – it means the child or the Christ Child in Spanish. However, the name is a terrible contradiction. El Niño conjures the image of a beautiful, cherubic baby. It is certainly not that. One climatologist describes this weather phenomenon as, “mudslides in Los Angeles and golfing in Minneapolis. And there can be a lot of chaos in between.”

Well, what is an El Niño? An El Niño is a warming of the Equatorial Pacific waters. Fishermen in South America gave it the name El Niño because the waters would get warm around Christmas time and the fish would disappear. These days, everybody seems to be talking about it. You can’t pick up a paper or turn on the news without seeing a story. In fact, as I was writing this, an old friend at CBS was doing a piece on it for Sunday Morning. Clearly, El Niño is already a headline maker, and it hasn’t yet kicked into full throttle.

NASA climatologist Bill Patzert at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California has likened this one to one of the all-time greatest monsters, “It’s truly the Godzilla El Niño,” Patzert told me. If it is not the most powerful yet, he believes it soon will be based on the satellite images and data he’s analyzing. And, this El Niño may have played a role in the recent deadly tornadoes in the South and the short sleeve and shorts winter weather in the Northeast.

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So why so much interest now? In a word: worry. Really intense El Niño events seem to take place about every 15 years give or take: 1982-83, 1997-98, which is the strongest to date. They have profound impacts on the weather, flooding and mudslides in California; wet, turbulent weather in Texas and along the Gulf Coast; and warm conditions in the Northeast. “So all the pieces on the weather board are rearranged and there’s a lot of volatility not just in the U.S. but across the planet,” according to Patzert.

That volatility left 42 people dead and 260 injured in Central Florida in February 1998. Seven tornadoes touched down overnight during the worst outbreak ever in the state.

Is that or something similar going to happen again? No one knows because as Mike Halpert says, “No two El Niño’s are alike.”

Halpert is Deputy Director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.  The scientists there measure El Niño’s strength not only by the ocean’s heat but how the atmosphere is reacting to it.  Halpert said, “What we think is really more important isn’t what the ocean does, it’s what the atmosphere overlying the ocean does because, that’s what kicks off the rest of the impacts globally.”

So far, Harpert says, this El Niño is weaker in the atmosphere than the two previous big El Niño events.  Does that mean the impacts will be less severe? Possibly but, there’s no way to know. Why?  Halpert says there just isn’t enough of an El Niño sample size.  He added, “We don’t have good data that goes back thousands of years. I mean we haven’t seen that many of these kinds of things.”

Frankly, it really does not matter where this occurrence of El Niño lands in the power rankings. It’s all about when the dust settles, how bad was it? We’ve already seen the first glimpses. And even though the sample size is small, there’s enough historical data, scientists say, to tell us we need to be prepared.

There’s still time to get prepared, but don’t put it off any longer. Start by making sure you have a NOAA weather radio, plus a smartphone app like FLASH Weather Alerts that includes “follow me” technology and text-to-speech alerting. You can select alerts for all the different weather hazards, including flood, freeze, and tornadoes.

If you know your area is prone to flooding or mudslides, remember “Turn Around, Don’t Drown”, and never cross a flooded roadway. Keep sandbags on hand, and make sure you have up-to-date flood insurance. Do you have emergency supplies on hand including bottled water? You need to! Have you taken a recent inventory of everything you own? If not, do it now. If you are in a tornado threat area, consider installing a tornado safe room or shelter, but make sure it is either built using FEMA 320 or the ICC 500 standard.

For the U.S., the big “worry” months have just arrived. “Beginning in January and February”, Patzert told me, “we should see a convoy of storms coming straight out of the Western Pacific slamming into California and Southwest Texas and these storms actually get pumped up as they go over the Northern Gulf of Mexico and some of the worst damage may be in Florida.”

For all the misery El Niño can dish out, there are a couple plusses. Scientists say it won’t end the drought in California but it should make a dent, and a warm winter saves the U.S. billions in heating costs.

The experts believe this El Niño will likely last into the late spring and could linger into early summer. What comes next? Halpert says, “It’s a good bet that when this El Niño ends the next thing we have will be a La Niña.” During a La Niña, the waters in the Pacific cool off, and the weather patterns change. Where El Niño events put a lid on Atlantic Hurricanes, La Niña’s are like muscle milk to Atlantic storms! Hurricane Season could become interesting.

Related Links

Flash Weather Alerts App – Mobilize Your Weather Radio

How to Protect Your Home from Flood Damage

Jet Propulsion Lab

“Turn Around, Don’t Drown

Which Tornado Safe Room is Right for You?

Hurricane Center Director Deconstructs “Lite” Season

By John Zarrella – Former CNN Correspondent

It’s over. Put a fork in it. The 2015 Hurricane season is done. You get six months to exhale unless something crazy stupid happens! No more looking over the shoulder out into the Atlantic or Gulf wondering if that puff of clouds might grow into the next named storm. No more wondering if this might be the year your town or city’s luck runs out.

Unfortunately we, the collective we who live in harm’s way, don’t really seem to wonder near enough. And if you’re not wondering then you’re certainly not doing much to prepare. Over the years, study after study has shown most folks living along the coastal United States from Maine to Texas don’t give hurricanes much thought until one is about to beat down their door.

And that is troubling to the experts. I talked recently with National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb. “I fear that so many coastal and inland residents at risk to wind and water hazards have forgotten how to get ready for the next hurricane season. We must take action now to survive the storm and be resilient in the aftermath.”

Sadly, it’s the same refrain Knabb’s predecessors shared with me over and over again, decade after decade. Whether it was Bob Sheets or Max Mayfield or Bill Read or Jerry Jarrell and all the way back to Neil Frank the fear was people were not paying attention. Bottom line, not much has changed. The directors talk, we don’t listen.

Sure there are spikes in attention the season after a big one hits like an Andrew, Hugo, or Katrina. But then you get a few years in a row of relative calm and we, that collective we again, fall back into our old complacency. For every Hurricane Center director, complacency was the first ingredient in that recipe for disaster.

Knabb says one of his great frustrations is that it really doesn’t take a whole lot of heavy lifting to be ready, “Here’s a start to your hurricane resilience to do list: create an evacuation plan, buy supplies, update insurance, including flood, and strengthen your home.”

So, why put it off? Now that you can exhale, now that the season is over, there’s no better time to get your plan together. For thirty-five years going back to David and Frederick in 1979, I have covered hurricanes. The common denominator in every, single storm was last minute panic. There were no exceptions. You’ve seen the images, cars backed up for miles as people flee the storm. Supermarkets wiped out. How about the long, long endless lines that snaked around gas stations? The guy with the plywood sheets roped down to his compact car. And that’s just before the storm hits! Really? Do you look forward to that?

No one can tell you what next season will bring. Who could have predicted Florida, the peninsula that sticks out like a sore thumb would have gone ten years without a hurricane? Director Knabb says that doesn’t change his outlook, “I don’t know how much longer we have until we get another Florida hurricane, but they’re coming back at some point. I live in Florida, and I’m going to continue to plan every year as if my house could be hit by a hurricane.”

2015 was an El Nino year. Strong winds helped keep a lid on hurricane activity and shielded the U.S. mainland. But as Knabb says, it didn’t shield the Bahamas from Joaquin. “Do you think the people in the Bahamas care about how many numbers of storms there were this year? They care that they got hit. And that really is at the end of the day all that matters. And we can get hit in any year. We can get hit in any era, El Nino or not, and everybody tends to look for this thing that they can hang their hat on and say ‘ok, this season it’s not my problem’, but it is our problem every year.”

Here’s a case in point from the Zarrella personal experience archives. This hurricane season ended with eleven named storms. The last was November’s Hurricane Kate which turned away from land. Thirty years ago, the 1985 season ended with eleven named storms. You know the name of the eleventh? Kate. It too was a November hurricane. But, it didn’t turn out to sea.

My crew and I were in an RV. I probably should have thought that one through a little more! But, back in those days, the dark ages of television, we didn’t have satellite trucks lined up every few miles along the coastline. The RV was our production facility on wheels. We loaded it with food, camera equipment, and edit machines. We could shoot, write, and edit our stories all in one place and then drive to a feed point. It worked just fine until November 21.

We were heading down a two lane road towards Mexico Beach, Florida in the Panhandle. Problem was category two Kate got there first. So here we are in this RV as the storm comes ashore. Pine trees are snapping. The rain hit the windshield so hard and heavy that you could see absolutely nothing. It was a white out. The RV was trembling. Looking out the side window, I saw the tin roof of a barn lift off, then sail across a field until it was blown to bits.

My cameramen Doug Hart and Rudy Marshall were yelling, “We’ve got to get back to that house we saw up the road.” The roar of the storm outside was so loud you had to yell. My editor Steve Sonnenblick was behind the wheel. He began backing the RV up the road. There was no way we could turn around. The wind and rain was hitting us head on. If we attempted to turn, the RV would have been broadsided, and I have no doubt, would have flipped.

I don’t know how far we drove in reverse. It may have been a half a mile or so. But when you are driving in reverse on a two lane road in the middle of a hurricane, it takes a whole heck of a lot longer than you want! When we got close enough, we left the RV on the side of the road, ran for the house, and started banging on the front door. The husband and wife were more than a little bewildered seeing four guys standing on their porch, but they graciously let us in to ride out the storm.

The point is, as Knabb and all the other National Hurricane Center Directors have repeated until they were blue in the face, you have to be ready. You need a plan whether it’s June, November, or anytime in between. Why risk your life or the lives of your loved ones. No one has a crystal ball. No one can tell you when or if. Director . Knabb says, “We learned this season that you can have really, really horrible impacts in what had been forecast to be a below average year and what has been an El Nino year.”

And by the way, we never rented an RV again to cover a hurricane!

Hurricane Charley and the Tale of Two Homes: 10 Years Later

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By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

It’s been 10 years since Hurricane Charley tore through Punta Gorda on Florida’s Gulf Coast – a Category 4 monster that was the strongest to hit the U.S. since Andrew in 1992. Punta Gorda homeowner Jim Minardi survived Charley, but he isn’t about to throw any anniversary parties. The August 2004 storm pummeled his 43-year-old home, shearing off the roof, blowing out windows and trashing all of his possessions. Fortunately, he and his dogs were unhurt, and his partner, Teresa Fogolini, was out of town.

When the storm was farther south around Sanibel Island, Jim thought he could make a run for it out of the area. After all, Charley was a Category 1 storm with winds below 100 mph at that point. But, as hurricanes often do, it grew more fierce. By the time it churned through Charlotte Harbor, Charley packed a lot more muscle. By then, it was too late to leave.

Jim hunkered down in a windowless interior bathroom and waited. There was little damage to his home before the calm of the eye passed over. So during “halftime,” as he puts it, Jim went to a neighbor’s shuttered home to wait out the rest of the storm. It was the back end of the storm that ripped into Jim’s home – and his roof crashed into that same neighbor’s pool screening.

Thanks to interest from Home Improvement expert Bob Vila and FLASH, one year later, Jim and Teresa were in a new home built to state-of-the-art building codes and hurricane protective measures. You can see the before-and-after and what was done to bolster their new home’s safety in this “Tale of Two Homes” video. Despite a much more hurricane-resistant home, the Charley ordeal and aftermath left Jim wiser – and worried during hurricane season, particularly for people with older homes.

Retrofit, retrofit, retrofit as much as possible, he urges those homeowners. Roofing tie downs and hurricane shutters are “cheap insurance,” Jim says. The rebuilt home has impact-resistant windows, so Jim believes he can forego shutters.

There’s one thing he considered adding to the new home: a safe room. Punta Gorda officials pointed out it would only be useful for tornadoes, not hurricanes, because the home’s waterfront location made it vulnerable to rising waters from storm surge. Officials warned that Jim and Teresa should always consider evacuation because they could drown if they stayed behind in a hurricane.

So, given that his home is much sturdier than the previous one, would Jim leave or go through another storm? “I ask myself that all the time,” he says. While he believes the reinforced home would withstand the impact, the trauma of what he endured with Charley lingers.

“I think I would leave,” he says. “But I’m pretty confident the home will be there after the next storm.”

Find more information about hurricanes and how to protect your home at flash.org.

Editor’s Note: Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has more than 30 years of experience in reporting and editing for newspapers in the Chicago and Miami areas. She covered the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992 in South Florida, and has experienced damage to her own homes from two hurricanes. She now lives in New Hampshire.

Preparedness Tips for Arthur

Now is the time to prepare your family and home for Arthur before the store shelves are empty and conditions are dangerous. FLASH offers the following tips for residents to prepare for severe weather conditions.

Protect Your Home

1. Check your hurricane shutters to make sure they are working properly and fit securely to ensure proper protection.

2. Go Tapeless! Never use tape on windows. If you do not have shutters, install temporary, emergency plywood shutters. Learn how to properly measure and install them.

3. Secure or relocate outdoor items such as trash cans, grills, toys and potted plants.  Remove any dead tree limbs carefully, if time permits.

4. Make sure all doors and windows are properly caulked and/or weather-stripped to reduce potential water intrusion, if time permits.

5. Replace rocks in your landscape with fire treated shredded mulch or other lightweight material, if time permits.

Prepare Your Family

6. Know if you are in a hurricane evacuation zone and have a plan.  Hurricane evacuation boundaries are based on the threat of water, not wind, and nearly all evacuation orders are issued due to threat of inland flooding and storm surge.

7. Make sure your 72-hour emergency kit is complete. Some items you should include:

  • Enough food and water for all members of the family, including pets
  • Extra cash
  • A battery powered NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards or download the FLASH Weather Alerts App
  • First aid kit and toiletries
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • Blankets, pillows, extra clothes, toys and games to keep the family comfortable and occupied
  • Special items for babies, pets and family members with special medical needs

8. Gather and store important paperwork like insurance and mortgage documents, and marriage certificates in waterproof containers. You can also scan copies and store them on a USB drive or take a photograph with your smartphone. Include these items in your emergency kit.

9. Fill your gas tank; gas stations rely on electricity to power pumps.

If You Lose Power 

10.  If you have space in your refrigerator or freezer, consider filling plastic containers with water leaving about an inch of space inside each one. This chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold if the power goes out.

11. Never use candles as they pose a fire hazard.

12. Don’t run a gas-powered generator inside a home or a garage – use only in well ventilated areas.

13. Connect only individual appliances to portable generators and never plug a into wall outlets. Plugging generators into the home’s electrical system can feed electricity back into the power lines and endanger both you and line workers.

For more information on protecting your home from hurricanes visit the FLASH hurricane page or Great Hurricane Blowout preparedness campaign.