Before the Storm
The Essential Guide to Planning for Severe Weather
How to Prepare for a Severe Storm
Storm preparation begins with your family. Specifically, ensuring your household has all the materials and knowledge they need to keep safe. Your first steps should be to create an emergency plan for your family, put together a safety kit full of essential supplies and prepare your home and property well in advance.
Create an Emergency Plan for Your Household
Before severe weather strikes, you should take the time to put together an emergency plan for your family as part of a storm preparation checklist. This will give your family a clear set of directions to follow in the event that you must either evacuate your home or shelter in place.
Action Items to Include in Your Family Emergency Plan
Assign responsibilities to each member of the family.
Decide who is responsible for what, including the emergency kit, taking care of family pets and any other essentials.
Create contact cards detailing how to get a hold of each family member.
Each card should include a phone number, email address and social accounts (if available).
Discuss what you should do with your pets.
Research hotels and emergency shelters near you to see if they accept pets. If not, ask if friends, relatives, veterinarian offices or animal shelters outside your immediate area could keep them in the event of an emergency.
Identify the exit points of your home.
Create a floor plan that identifies all the exit points in each room of your home (include doors and windows).
Determine how to manage the medical conditions of family members.
If you or a member of your family use medication that requires refrigeration, prepare a cooler with ice packs ahead of time to keep the medicine viable. Some medications may remain stable at room temperature for extended periods of time (view list of cold-storage medications and recommended temperatures).
Identify the potential impacts of severe weather on your home.
Your home may be at risk if it lies in a floodplain or resides in a low-elevation area. Check FEMA’s flood maps to see if your home is vulnerable.
Vinyl windows are susceptible to cracks from hail, while aluminum cladding is subject to denting and spatter marks.
Your roof is most susceptible to storm damage and should be a primary focus while preparing for severe weather.
Use Flood Risk Assessment Tools to Gauge Your Risk
In addition to researching flood maps, consider getting a complete risk assessment for your property. These tools use sophisticated models to determine the short-term and long-term risk of your property flooding. And as Coastal Risk's Robert Hubbell explains, you can get an accurate flood report practically anywhere now:
"[Initially] this kind of flood risk intelligence was for coastal properties, but now we can do it for...any kind of property in the country. [Before] you'd have to extrapolate from a FEMA flood zone map which looks back at over a hundred year's worth of data, but it doesn't account for climate change and sea level rise."
Pick two locations to meet up outside of your home in the event of an emergency.
One location should be directly outside of your home in the event of immediate danger, such as a fire. This way you can quickly tell if someone is missing. The other location should be somewhere in your neighborhood so everyone in your family, regardless of where they are at the time, can meet up in the event of an evacuation order.
Identify a secure location in your home to ride out severe weather.
If you plan to remain in place for the duration of the storm, you will need to identify the areas of your home that offer the most protection from severe weather.
Where to Take Shelter During a Storm
Basement: Offers the most protection from hail, debris and high winds.
Bathroom and Closets: Bathrooms and closets offer more protection than windowed rooms in an emergency situation.
Interior Halls: If you don’t have a basement, or can’t reach a bathroom or closet in time, take shelter in an interior hallway in the lowest level of your home.
Storm Shelter: Purpose-built storm shelters are the ideal place to wait out extreme weather.
Storm Preparation Tip:
Designate an Out-of-Area Emergency Contact
In extreme weather conditions, local calls or texts may not go through, but long-distance calls may still be possible. Designate an emergency contact outside of the immediate area that each member of your family can call in an emergency situation. That way everyone will know who to check in with and your contact can update each member of your family. Your emergency contact should ideally:
Live 100 Miles Away
Your contact should live at least 100 miles away from you to ensure they are not also impacted by the storm.
Be Readily Available
Include the name, phone number (home and cell) and email address of your emergency contact on your family’s contact cards.
Shocking Weather Facts
On average, there are 10 named storms every hurricane season. Each name is taken from a predetermined list of male and female names organized by the World Meteorological Organization. Each list is used on a six-year rotation, with the only changes occurring in the event that a storm is so deadly or costly that its use would be inappropriate.
Put Together an Emergency Storm Kit Checklist
Being prepared for a storm means preparing for the absolute worst conditions. That’s why the next step in your storm preparation planning is to put together an emergency kit stocked with all the essentials your family will need under a variety of circumstances. Those circumstances may range from an extended power outage to severe flooding. Stock your emergency kit with the items below to prepare your family for any possibility.
Your Emergency Storm Kit Checklist Should Include:
A Battery-Powered Flashlight
Ideally both a AA-powered flashlight and a heavy-duty one for illuminating large spaces.
Change of Clothing
In case your clothes become wet or torn, or you have to stay overnight in a different location.
Stockpile AA batteries and all other battery types your devices require.
A Three-Day Supply of Water
A 1 gallon supply per person per day for a total of 12 gallons for a family of four.
A Three-Day Supply of Non-Perishable Food
Suggested emergency food supplies: Nuts, Crackers, Peanut Butter, Dried Fruit, Granola or Cereal, Canned Juices, Protein Bars, Pasteurized Milk, Baby Food, Canned Meats, Vegetables, Fruits, Non-Electric Can Opener.
A Battery-Powered or Hand-Cranked Portable Weather Radio
Use a weather or weather-band radio to pick up NOAA weather alerts. Other handy features to have: a digital tuner (easier to use) and USB outlets for charging your phone and other devices.
Sturdy Shoes or Boots
Waterproof shoes with extra-grip are ideal in extreme weather conditions.
List of Emergency Phone Numbers
Include a copy of your emergency contact cards along with local emergency services.
Keep sleeping bags close by in case you have to spend the night in a shelter or a relative’s home.
Prescriptions and Essential Medicines
Keep a cooler with ice packs handy for refrigerated medicine and another container ready for shelf-stable medicine.
A First Aid Kit
A standard first aid kit should include everything from aspirin to bandages. Check out the Red Cross’ "Anatomy of a First Aid Kit" to ensure your first aid kit has everything you need.
Titles, deeds, bank information, passports, licenses and other hard-to-replace documents should be kept in a safe. Make copies of each and keep with your kit in a Ziploc bag.
Credit Cards and Cash
Keep one or two credit cards in your kit along with enough cash to cover your expenses for one to three days.
Ensure You Have Plenty of Water If You’re Staying Put
"If there is advanced warning of a major storm and you intend to stay in your home, you can use your water heater or a pressure tank as a source of uncontaminated drinking water. Before the storm hits, flush the tank and allow it to refill with clean water. Turn off electricity or gas to the hot water heater. Draw water as needed from the drain valve at the bottom of the tank. This water will remain safe to drink for a few days.
When returning to your home after a hurricane or flood, tap water may be contaminated. Boil your water before using it for any purpose until community officials announce that it's safe. Even once safety is declared, open all your faucets for several minutes to flush the system."
Prepare Your Home for Storms and Severe Weather
It’s time to turn your attention to your home. During a severe storm, your single greatest asset is also the most vulnerable simply because you can’t just pick it up and move it out of harm’s way. The best thing you can do is to prepare your home to stand on its own against nature’s fury. Follow the guidelines below to learn how to prepare for severe weather.
How to Prevent Storm Damage to Your Home
Keep Your Yard Tidy
Simply putting away outdoor items after using them, such as sporting equipment and gardening tools, will reduce the amount of flying debris in the event of a sudden storm.
Secure Windows and Doors
Ensure that all windows and doors are locked to prevent debris and sudden wind bursts from coming in.
Trim Your Trees
The trees closest to your property should be trimmed to protect your home, car and power lines from downed branches.
Install Storm Shutters
If you live in an area prone to high winds and hurricanes, storm shutters offer excellent protection for windows and are available at a variety of price points.
- Storm Panels: $7 to $15 per panel.
- Rolling Shutters: $20 to $30 per square foot.
- Colonial Shutters: $200 to $500 per window.
Install Storm Doors
Storm doors will also help protect your exterior door from rain, ice, snow and windblown debris, reducing repair and maintenance costs. Porch offers a helpful calculator that breaks down storm door installation costs by hardware, supplies, labor and additional framing.
Reinforce Your Roof
If you live on the Gulf or Eastern coasts, consider reinforcing your roof to prevent structural damage or tear-offs. Consult a roofing contractor to go over these reinforcement options:
A strong adhesive applied under shingle tabs and along exposed edges to prevent stripping.
These are straps that connect your roof to your home’s walls using clips, providing increased stability during high winds.
The trusses of your roof can be directly reinforced using overlapping two-by-fours to increase their overall strength.
Additional Home Safety Improvements From AmFam
"Since garage doors are highly susceptible to wind damage, it's a great idea to retrofit them to improve wind resistance. Consider installing high-impact windows designed for wind resistance. Make sure entry doors have at least three hinges and a deadbolt lock. Have a contractor examine your roof and foundation to ensure they're anchored securely."
Flood-Proof Your Home
Waterproof Your Basement
According to Austin Werner, president of Real Seal, there are many ways to waterproof a leaky basement. All you have to do is reach out to a waterproofing contractor to get started:
"First, the contractor has to determine where the leak is coming from. If it is a foundation crack, an Epoxy Injection process will stop the leak. Floor/Cove Joint seepage can be mitigated by installing a Drain Tile System. Sump Pump failure? Be sure to get a Battery Backup System. Window Well Drains can be installed to prevent water pouring through basement windows."
Elevate Essential Equipment
Boilers, AC units and utilities should be elevated if your flooding risk is minimal. If you live in a high-risk area, move your HVAC equipment to a higher floor to prevent costly flood damage. Your insurance agent and a contractor can provide cost estimates and relocation plans.
Install Drain Backstop
If your basement drain backs up after heavy rains, call a plumber to help you install a backflow prevention device. Installation costs can vary significantly depending on how accessible the drain pipe is, but $500 to $1,000 is not unusual. Bear in mind, the cost of restoring a finished basement after a sewer backup is much more expensive.
Landscape With Heavy Rain in Mind
Install Drains to Channel Runoff
Ryan Houston of Lawn-N-Order Landscaping recommends installing surface or French drains to channel storm water runoff:
"Surface drains are swales that can be re-vegetated with grass for a healthier drain system that filters water returning to our streams and waterways. Lining them with stone is another popular method that prevents erosion within the swales or ditchlines. French drains capture surface and subsurface water and route them to locations where they will not cause harm to structures."
Mulch is highly absorptive and can help soak up excess rainwater. Lay it along the perimeter of your home to further prevent stormwater from damaging your basement.
Switch to a Gravel or Brick Driveway
Asphalt and concrete surfaces prevent rainwater from seeping into ground, allowing it to pool or stream towards your home. Replacing it with a gravel or brick surface will allow more water to trickle into the soil instead.
Use Rain Barrels Strategically
Heavy rains can easily overwhelm gutters and spouts. An often overlooked storm prep tip is to place rain barrels underneath your downspouts to slow the flow of rainwater and prevent it from seeping into your basement.
Check Your Sump Pump
"Do this by pouring a few buckets of water into your sump pit. In a matter of seconds, the pump should discharge the water and shut itself off. If not, it’s time to call in a plumber,” says Paul Abrams, public relations director at Roto Rooter. “If your sump pump operates frequently, consider installing a battery back-up pump that will operate in the event of a power failure."
Buy a Backup Generator:
A backup power generator can help you weather the storm in case your powers goes out. The only question is what kind of generator you should get. "Portable generators in some cases are all [homeowners] need to back up their home if they want to back up a few relatively small things," says Art Aiello, Marketing Communications and PR Manager for Generac. "In fact, during storms, portable generators are what most people turn to because they’re familiar and [it’s] easy to get your hands on them."
If you have the time and resources, consider installing a permanent standby generator that will automatically switch on during an outage. "A 9kW [unit] will back up the essentials. If you want to back up your whole house, you’ll want a 20 or 22 kW unit."
For both portable and permanent generators, ensure the unit is kept outside of enclosed spaces.
"Most safety experts will recommend keeping it a safe distance away from your home: away from doors, windows, vents - anywhere exhaust can get in."
Prepare for Any Storm by Keeping Your Drains Clear
"Clean and maintain all ditch lines and keep debris out of ditch lines so the debris is not washed into culverts causing costly clogs and replacements. Keep all drain catchment basins clean and clear again, so debris does not get sucked into pipes and require expensive repairs."
Tips to Insure Your Home Against Storm Damage
Knowing how to prepare for a storm means knowing what your homeowners’ insurance covers, and whether additional insurance is required for a particular type of damage.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) provides coverage for flood damage in participating communities. Check FEMA’s Community Status Book to see if your community participates in the program.
Most homeowners insurance policies cover hail damage, including dents in roofing shingles, broken windows and damaged siding.
As with wind and hail, most homeowners insurance policies cover damage from tornadoes. Policies with higher deductibles usually carry lower premiums, but the higher your deductible the more you will have to pay out of your pocket in the event of a major claim. If you live in a part of the country prone to tornadoes, a policy with a lower deductible, and likely higher premiums, will reduce your out-of-pocket expense in the event your home is severely damaged.
A standard homeowners insurance policy generally covers wind damage from hurricanes. In most cases, a separate deductible is required set between 3 and 5 percent of the damage costs.
In some states, homeowners insurance will not cover hurricane wind damage, requiring the purchase of a separate windstorm insurance policy. As with normal homeowners insurance, there is a separate deductible for hurricane wind damage.
Two ways to insure your personal belongings:
"Replacement Cost Coverage: Insurance that pays the dollar amount needed to replace damaged personal property with items of like kind or quality without deduction for depreciation.
Actual Cash Value: Insurance under which the policyholder receives an amount equal to the replacement value of damaged property minus depreciation. Unless a homeowners policy specifies that property is covered for its replacement value, the coverage is for actual cash value."
Create a Home Inventory
One of the most important steps in storm preparedness is creating a home inventory. A home inventory is essentially a list of all your possessions, organized by type and noting particularly valuable items. By creating a home inventory, you will be able to replace most of your possessions when you file a claim on your homeowners’ insurance. Your inventory should include all of the following information:
- Item Type
- Basic Description
- Purchase Location
- Year Purchased
- Make or Model
To supplement your inventory, take pictures of the items on your list and include any receipts, appraisals and other related documentation. This will help expedite the claims process in the event your possessions are lost or damaged. For particularly valuable items, such as artwork or collectibles, you should consider insuring them separately so they are covered at their full value.
Pro Tip: Get it All On Tape
Walk through your home with a tape recorder or video camera and describe each of your possessions as you walk from room to room. The visual walkthrough will make identifying the exact make and model of your possessions even easier.
Storing the list, photos and tapes:
"Regardless of how you do it (written list, thumb drive, photos, videotape or audio tape), keep your inventory along with receipts in your safe deposit box or at a friend's or relative's home. That way you'll be sure to have something to give your insurance representative if your home is damaged. When you make a significant purchase, add the information to your inventory while the details are fresh in your mind."