Hurricane season began last month, we're already looking at the second "named" Atlantic storm of the year: Tropical Storm Barry is spinning through the Gulf of Mexico toward Louisiana and is expected to reach hurricane force late today before it makes landfall Saturday. People living in areas where such storms tend to strike know the drill: Now's the time to be sure you're stocked up on batteries, flashlights, bottled water, and other supplies. And even if you're not on the Gulf Coast, Barry is a good reminder to check on the status of your emergency stash.
However, beyond battening down the hatches and making sure you have what you'd need to get through power outages and other disruptions, there are other, less obvious preparations you should make for a storm. Before that first heavy gust of wind blows through or that first raindrop falls, you'll want to get your financial house in order.
1. Gather your documents, and keep them safe
If the worst happens, you will need to have your identification, insurance information, medical forms, and other important documents readily available. It's a smart idea to kept those items in a waterproof safe (or at least store them in sealed plastic bags), and also make digital copies of them.
Take pictures of any relevant documents, and store them in the cloud. Include everything you might need, such as your drivers license, passport, health insurance cards, insurance policies, will, living will.
2. Pull together some cash
If heavy weather wreaks havoc on your community, it could be difficult or impossible to pay for most things with credit or debit cards. The networks that allow for those payments depend on the internet, and many retailers no longer have paper backups for those systems. So have a couple hundred dollars in cash on hand so you can pay for anything you need in the immediate aftermath of a storm. And make sure some of that money is in small bills -- retailers may run out of change if everyone's paying with $20s and larger.
3. Take "before" pictures of your property
Your insurance company may not be as easy to deal with as you'd hope in the wake of a storm that causes widespread damage and numerous claims. One thing that can speed up the claims process for you is being able to show the claims adjuster before and after pictures.
So, prior to the storm, take photos of your home inside and out. If you can safely get pictures of your roof -- a part of the house we often overlook, but that is quite susceptible to storm damage -- do so. That way, you'll be able to show your insurance company the honest state of your property before the weather damaged it, and avoid any arguments over whether or not the issues predated the storm.
4. Make sure your insurance is in order
Speaking of insurance companies, it's important to know what sort of coverage you have, and to adjust it if that's necessary -- and possible. You generally can't add or change your coverage once a storm warning has gone into effect. That doesn't mean you should not immediately examine your policies and make changes as soon as you possibly can if you realize there are holes in your coverage.
5. Move stuff and pay bills
If you know bad weather is coming, it only makes sense to physically protect valuable or irreplaceable items. If you have valuables that could be easily destroyed, consider putting them into storage or even shipping them to family or friends who live outside the path of the storm.
It's also a smart idea to make sure your monthly bills will be paid on time, because bad weather may cut of your access to the internet. There's no need to pay late fees when you could just go online before the storm and set bills to autopay when they come due -- or just pay them a little early.
All of the above items notwithstanding, what's most important is to take care of the physical safety of yourself and your loved ones. Follow all the recommendations from your local or state government. If you're asked to evacuate, don't stick around with the goal of saving your possessions -- just go. Stuff can mostly be replaced, and no item in your home -- not even the home itself -- is valuable enough to be worth putting your life in danger.