4 household hacks to make sure you're hurricane ready
How do hurricanes get their names?
Hurricane season begins on June 1, so now is a good time to make sure you're prepared for any possible tropical system if you haven't already done so, and to have a plan in place to keep you and your family safe.
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Virginia has a new plan for dealing with hurricane evacuations that uses a zoned approach to prioritize getting the most vulnerable residents away from major flooding and reducing unnecessary travel.
It's the most significant change in decades to the state's evacuation system, which computer simulations showed was unrealistic.
Jim Redick, Norfolk's Emergency Preparedness and Response director, says the new plan should help prevent over-evacuation.
"If we don't over-evacuate the area, then we'll just get those who really need to go out of the area. But it's still gonna be a cantankerous issue when you have this much population, and this little infrastructure. It's going to be a challenge," said Redick.
The new plan breaks down coastal Virginia into four zones designated A through D. In the event of a hurricane, residents in certain zones may be directed to evacuate, while others could be asked to shelter in place. The state says the plan will reduce traffic, promote highway safety and lessen overcrowding at storm shelters.
Residents can visit a website, call 2-1-1 or contact their local emergency managers to find out their zone.
We asked an insurance expert to explain the government program and its challenges.
What is flood insurance?
Homeowners’ insurance does not cover damage to a home caused by flooding. A homeowner must have a separate policy to cover flood-related losses, defined as water traveling along or under the ground.
Most such policies are underwritten by the National Flood Insurance Program, which is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The National Flood Insurance Program was established in 1968 to address the lack of availability of flood insurance in the private market and reduce the demand for federal disaster assistance for uninsured flood losses. Another purpose was to integrate flood insurance with floodplain management, which includes such things as adopting and enforcing stricter building codes, retaining or restoring wetlands to absorb floodwaters and requiring or encouraging homeowners to make their homes more flood-resistant.
The National Flood Insurance Program’s activities are funded largely by the premiums and fees paid by its policyholders, supplemented by a small amount of general funds to help pay for flood risk mapping. Because the National Flood Insurance Program serves the public interest, some believe that more of its funding should be borne by taxpayers.
Homeowners can purchase a federal flood policy directly from the National Flood Insurance Program or through a private insurer. Separately, some private insurers sell their own flood policies on a limited basis for properties that are overcharged by the National Flood Insurance Program.
Why do people at great risk of flooding forgo insurance?
People who perceive that their exposure to floods is high are more likely to buy it, all other things equal. And the mandatory purchase requirement forces owners of mortgaged homes located in Special Flood Hazard Areas – areas at high risk for flooding – to buy insurance.
However, 43 percent of homeowners incorrectly believe that their homeowners’ insurance covers them for flood losses.
Other factors also come into play, such as a lack of information, the difficulty of calculating flood risk and the expectation that the government will provide disaster assistance – which is rarely the case.
What does flood insurance cover?
With a National Flood Insurance Program policy, a homeowner can purchase coverage on a dwelling up to US$250,000 and the contents of a home up to $100,000. It does not cover costs associated with “loss of use” of a home.
The National Flood Insurance Program policy limits have been in effect since 1994 and need to be updated to account for the increase in the replacement cost of homes and the actual cash value of their contents. Although not the best measure of the replacement cost, the median price of new homes sold in the U.S. has soared 132 percent since 1994.
Some homeowners buy additional flood protection from private insurers to make up any shortfall.
4 household hacks to make sure you're hurricane ready
Preparing for a hurricane can be stressful, but it doesn't have to be difficult.
Here are some hurricane hacks you might've never thought of–using items you've likely got at home–to help make sure you're prepared.
-Turn your washing machine into a cooler: Fill it up with ice and close the lid to keep items cool. And don't worry about what to do when the ice begins to melt, the machine is designed to drain water.
-Your dishwasher can be a waterproof safe: It's sealed to keep water in, so it should do just fine keeping it out too. Just make sure all your dishes are taken out before loading up important documents or belongings.
-Water bottles and flashlights make great lanterns: Instead of purchasing an expensive lantern, try taping a flashlight to the bottom of a water bottle to illuminate a room. For a bigger glow, try a larger water jug with a headlight strapped onto it.
-Aluminum dish pans can keep your furniture out of water: It might do much in major flooding, but if water begins to pool on your floor, placing those disposable aluminum cooking pans around the furniture legs can help minimize water damage.
Some other tips to keep in mind:
-Plastic bins and bags are your best friend: They are watertight and can store a variety of items you either want to keep safe or cool.
-Make extra ice ahead of time: Freeze it in bags, freeze it in bottles, use it when the power goes out, you'll likely need it.
-Fill up the tub with water: You might not need it for drinking, but it will come in handy if you're looking for water for cleaning, boiling or flushing!
-Take pictures before the storm: It'll be a big help for insurance purposes, in case you have to make a claim because of damage. All you need is your cell phone. The best thing to do is to walk through each room slowly, narrating what the camera is looking at and take a visual inventory of things covered by your insurance policy. Make sure to send that video to someone or upload it to the cloud, so you have it when you need it.
Next, if you're trying to make sense of some of the terminology for tropical weather:
It's not just the strong winds and heavy rain from a tropical system that you need to be concerned about. In fact, the most deadly part of a hurricane is the storm surge.
It's not just the normal high tide that varies from day to day and place to place. It's the surge in advance of a hurricane, the abnormal rise in water as a tropical storm is approaching.
So we have the strong winds that push the water towards the shore. Whether it’s a tropical storm or a hurricane. And depending on the continental shelf, the slope of the land under the water's surface, and the shape of the coast line, that can directly impact the significance of the storm surge.
But whatever it is, 3 feet, 6 feet, or more, water has a lot of force behind it. In fact, one cubic yard of water, that's 3 feet by 3 feet, and 3 feet deep, weighs almost a ton! 2000 lbs! And that's the force pushing the water towards the land.
If that's not enough, all of that water coming ashore has floating debris in it. Flotsam and jetsam, trees, boats, and cars. And all this debris acts like battering rams. With everything rushing ashore that battering ram is going to eliminate anything in its path.
Storm surge is something you need to pay very close attention to.
Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale: How to measure a tropical cyclone's strength
The easiest and most straightforward way to measure a hurricane's strength is to use the Saffir-Simpson scale.
Divided into five categories, the scale designates each hurricane based on its sustained wind speed and estimates what kind of property damage could occur. Category 1, for example, is considered "very dangerous" while a Category 5 storm is "catastrophic."
Category 5 - 157 mph or higher sustained winds: Catastrophic damage will occur ("a high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed)
The Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale.
A tropical cyclone that hasn't reached hurricane strength is considered a tropical storm (39-73 mph wind) or a weaker tropical depression (less than 38 mph).
Despite what you might see on social media, there is no such thing as a Category 6 storm nor is there any consideration to create such a category. The bottom line is a Category 5 storm, whether at 157 mph or Hurricane Allen's 190-mph wind (1980 season), it likely will completely destroy your home anyway.
Matthew, Harvey, Katrina; three random names that incite memories of a deadly, destructive, powerful force of nature.
So, how did these hurricanes get their names?
When storms first were named, they were named arbitrarily, experts said. For example, if a storm ripped off the mast of a boat named Antje, the hurricane would become known as Hurricane Antje. Eventually, meteorologists wanted a more organized naming system.
Today, storm naming is determined by an international committee of the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The group meets annually to discuss all things hurricane related.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, Atlantic tropical storms have been named from a list that originated from the National Hurricane Center in 1953, which is now kept up by the WMO.
"The original name lists featured only women's names," the WMO said. "In 1979, men's names were introduced and they alternate with the women's names. Six lists are used in rotation. Thus, the 2015 list will be used again in 2021."
The organization said the only time there is a change in the list is if a storm is extremely deadly or costly. The WMO said they retire the name due to it being inappropriate for reasons of sensitivity.
"If that occurs, then at an annual meeting by the WMO Tropical Cyclone Committees (called primarily to discuss many other issues) the offending name is stricken from the list and another name is selected to replace it. Infamous storm names such as Haiyan (Philippines, 2013), Sandy (USA, 2012), Katrina (USA, 2005), Mitch (Honduras, 1998) and Tracy (Darwin, 1974) are examples for this."
WTSP 10 News, WFMY News 2, and The Associated Press contributed to this report