Hurricane Season is Here—Part 2: Snowbirds, Pay Attention

Last week, I walked into my office to find this note on my desk:

9AM EDT 5 June 2014 Update:

As of 7AM EDT June 5, an area of low pressure…was located near 19.3N 94.4W…just off the coast of Mexico in the extreme southern Bay of Campeche. Estimated central pressure is 1004MB, with what appears to be slow drift to the south-southeast, at present.

What that message meant to me, and millions of other residents of Florida and the Gulf states, was that we had received our wake-up call: Hurricane Season 2014 is here. From now until November, any low-pressure system in the Atlantic, the Caribbean, or the Gulf of Mexico will be tracked and reported on several times a day—especially by those of us who have lived here for more than a decade and survived names such as Katrina, Wilma, Ivan, and Andrew in 1992 (nobody who lived through that one can forget it).

Related: Hurricane Season is Here—Part 1: Protect Yourself

Fortunately, the system in the Bay of Campeche blew itself out—most do. But even storms that don’t develop into hurricanes can kill. Sandy, the storm that ripped up a large part of the coastline of New Jersey and New York in 2012, was not a hurricane—but it still did an estimated $68 billion of damage.

For snowbirds who have condos, second homes, mobile homes, or manufactured homes anywhere in the east coast states or bordering the Gulf of Mexico, the arrival of hurricane season should not be neglected. You still have time to make some adjustments to secure your property—even from a distance.

I assume you have already turned off the water in your home, put up your storm shutters, moved anything that could become a projectile (e.g., lawn furniture, awnings, BBQ grills, potted plants, tool sheds, garbage tubs) inside your home or into a commercial storage facility. Even a 75-mile-per-hour wind—the lowest level of hurricane activity—can send such objects hurtling through space as if they were toys. I have been through several tropical storms and full-fledged hurricanes, and I have seen how little regard Wilma, Ivan, or Andrew had for man-made objects.

And if you haven’t yet done it, it’s not too late to enlist the aid of a trusted neighbour to keep an eye on your property, phone or email you if they see anything amiss, or give you a report on visible damage after the storm passes. Don’t wait until the hurricane is at your door to call for assistance—your neighbour will be far too busy putting up his shutters to take care of things you should have done last spring before you went home. And don’t plan on flying down to Florida or Texas immediately before or after the storm has passed. It could be many days before planes return to their normal schedules or police allow you into hard-hit areas to check out the status of your home, if you can find it.

Related: Travel Mix-Ups: Lessons from Gerrit, Maureen, and Dave

After Hurricane Wilma rolled through the Fort Lauderdale area in 2005, my own home was without power for nine days: no refrigeration, hot water, lights, cooking surfaces, air conditioning, television, or phones (except for some old landline relics that didn’t need power to run). My grandkids loved the adventure—camping in our backyard, cooking breakfast on a coal-fired grill, flushing toilets with buckets of water carried in from the pool. Real adventure.

You also still have time to read your homeowners insurance policy to verify if you are covered for storm-related losses. Unless you specifically asked for flood and/or wind coverage, you likely aren’t covered for these circumstances. Get in touch with your insurance agent and make adjustments, quickly. Once a storm is heading in your direction and is only a couple of days out, it’s too late.

As unpredictable as hurricanes are, they generally follow a certain pattern: In June and July, they begin forming in the Gulf of Mexico or close by in the Atlantic or western Caribbean. They normally have a shorter gestation (therefore a little less punch) than the biggest storms that form off the coast of Africa in  the Cape Verde islands from mid-August to the end of September. They have a lot of warm water to fuel them for the long trip to the Americas.

But just because they have followed that pattern in the past, there is no guarantee they will do the same thing again this year. Consequently, we should all prepare for the “Big One.” Residents of the sunbelt know that and take nothing for granted. Neither should you.

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