If you live along the Gulf or Atlantic coasts, you know what June 1 means: it's time to add Weather Underground to your bookmarks and prepare for another hurricane season.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted a "near normal" year for storms in the North Atlantic. NOAA expects 9-15 named systems, 1-3 of which will become major hurricanes. That's a slightly rosier outlook than normal -- thanks to the recent death of La Niña -- so many folks have breathed sighs of relief.
But even though we have no reason to disagree with NOAA, and even though we're certainly not pessimists (Friday pessimists? Whoever heard of such?), we would like to mention a couple of things:
1. There have already been two named storms in the North Atlantic before hurricane season officially began.
2. All it takes is one major storm to throw you for a loop -- or worse.
The good news about hurricanes is that, unlike some other natural disasters, we can see them coming. In the U.S. we know that they're most likely to appear during the six months between June 1 and November 30, and once they're on the map, our meteorologists can predict fairly accurately where they're going to hit. That means we have time to prepare.
And so, in that spirit of preparation, here's a quick, seven-point checklist for you and your family that ought to keep you safe if and when those storms come a-calling:
1. Maintain, maintain, maintain
We're sure that most of you are very, very good about maintaining your vehicles. We have no doubt that you dutifully drive in for oil changes, tire rotations, and all the other items on the car-owner's to-do list, even when it means losing some Saturday nap time on the sofa.
Just for the sake of argument, though, let's assume there are a couple of you who've fallen out of step. Now is a great time to get back in your car's good graces by taking your vehicle in for a check of its fluid levels, tire pressure, and other punch-list items.
And no matter whether you're on top of things or playing catch-up, go a step further than you ordinarily would. Ask your mechanic to look over the a/c, the spare tire (if you have one), and your belts. Pretend you're going on a very long, frustrating road trip, most of which will be spent stuck in traffic -- which is, unfortunately, a pretty accurate description of an evacuation.
Most importantly, do all this now. Don't wait until August rolls around and the category-threes are knocking at your door. Getting ahead of the game will make the stressful process of evacuation just a tiny bit calmer. Also, if some of your shop's “repairs” need repairing — for example, if your mechanic forgets to plug up your radiator after changing the coolant — you’ll have ample time to deal with it.
2. Stock up on supplies
When we leave in a hurry, we tend to overpack (see items #3 and #4 below). That's okay, but be sure to leave room in the trunk for a box of emergency gear – you know, stuff that'll come in handy, even if your auto repair skills are minimal. Some of the items you might consider are: a can or two of Fix-a-Flat, a gallon of antifreeze, road flares, jumper cables, and a gas canister. Need more suggestions? Have a look at this handy list from Subaru, and visit Ready.gov, too.
Also, if you don’t subscribe to a roadside assistance plan like AAA or OnStar, now might be a good time to invest. That goes double if your car has been around the block a few times. (Remember: OnStar FMV is on sale for another two weeks.) It won't make the tow truck come any faster, but at least you know it'll come.
3. What are you taking?
Hurricanes vary in intensity, speed, size, and other factors, so the length of your "hurrication" will vary, too. Try to cobble together a list of things that will be absolutely necessary while you're away, including medication for you, your family, and your pets; homeowners insurance and medical records; key electronic devices and their respective chargers; and, of course, important phone numbers, including those of your doctor and your kids' schools. If you keep most of those numbers stored on your phone, try to synch that data somewhere in the cloud, so you can access it even if your computer crashes. In fact, you should probably back up your hard drive to the cloud, too, if possible.
Also, make a list of things you want to take that are irreplaceable. Chances are, this will be a big list, so be brutal and limit yourself to those items you truly couldn't live without. Scan things like family photos and upload them to an online storage site like Google Drive or Dropbox. Put all the other irreplaceables into a safe, accessible spot, just so you don't forget them if you need to move to higher ground.