By BreAnn Stephenson
As Daylight Saving Time returns and “springs” us forward, it is time to turn our attention to preparing for severe weather. March is one of the focal months of the National Weather Service’s Severe Weather Awareness event schedule. Though you cannot stop hail, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires and other severe weather from coming your way, there are steps you can take at your property so it will be better able to “weather the storm.” What weather risks are most likely to affect your properties in the coming months and how can you minimize any potential damage?
Weather Risks for Your Investing Area
The U.S. has around 15 very diverse climates and our cities are spread across nearly 2.3 billion acres of land. If you invest in several states it can be a challenge to keep up with the changing weather conditions in each region, so having property managers that communicate timely and operate proactively using a preventive mindset is crucial. Even if your properties are all located within the same city, the unpredictable weather we’ve experienced the past few years requires that you or your PM be on the ball for anything that could suddenly drop out of the sky. The first step to minimizing losses is becoming familiar with the weather where you invest, so let’s explore the severe weather risks you may see over the next couple months. (Bear in mind that the weather data provided is susceptible to change.)
Thunder & Lightning
Thunderstorm activity peaks at different times of the year across the U.S. Take a look at the map below and see when you are most likely to experience a severe thunderstorm at your property:
An area’s susceptibility to flooding can change over time depending upon the weather patterns around the globe. The FEMA map below can give you an idea of how frequent flooding has occurred in your area in recent years:
So far in 2018, all has been quieter on the tornado front, with a total of just 58 tornadoes occurring through February 28th as compared to an average of 107 during the years 2005-2015 (NOAA). The total annual average tornado count usually floats around 511 (1991-2010 averages, NOAA) for meteorological spring. According to ustornadoes.com, we are poised for an average season in 2018.
Though tornadoes are thought to occur mostly in spring and summer, it can vary by state and region, with some states’ tornado activity peaking in early fall. Are you investing in an area where tornadoes are common? Check it out:
More information on peak tornado activity by state: http://www.ustornadoes.com/2013/03/19/monthly-tornado-averages-by-state-and-region/
The official Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1st through November 30th and the Eastern North Pacific hurricane season starts just a little earlier on May 15th. That doesn’t mean that we cannot experience hurricanes prior to those dates, as Tropical Storm Arlene spun up in April of 2017.
Though some named storms do affect Hawaii and the southernmost part of California, we are much more likely to see these kinds of storms forming in the Atlantic and affecting Florida, the Gulf Coast states and the Eastern Seaboard. You can track storms at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.
Why is wildfire included in an article about severe weather? Well, there is actually close knit relationship between environmental conditions (humidity and wind, for example) and wildfire frequency and severity. According to a 2017 Verisk report, 4.5 million U.S. homes were at a high to extreme risk of wildfire, with a little less than half of those in California. That stated, wildfires can occur in any state if it gets dry enough. Though some of the largest wildfires occur in the western half of the U.S., the Midwest, South and Southeast have had their fair share of fires the last few years as drought rolled through.
4 Types of Damage Severe Weather Can Bring & Steps to Minimize Losses
Now that you are a little more familiar with the severe weather risks that affect the areas in which you invest, what can you do to mitigate any damage before and after an event occurs? Take action well before severe weather season starts so you are not scrambling to make a last ditch effort or putting yourself or others in unnecessary danger. Let’s explore four common kinds of damage associated with severe weather and what you can do about it.
Wind Damage – Roof and siding damage, falling trees, complete levelling of structures
When it comes to severe weather, the wind is usually a key component. Hurricanes and tornadoes are super powerful wind patterns of course, but even wildfires grow exponentially when high winds are present. To minimize the wind’s effect on your property:
- Secure loose gutters and downspouts.
- Keep your trees and shrubs well-maintained so they are more wind-resistant.
- Remove dead or dying trees from the property so they can’t fall on your investment or your neighbor’s property.
When Storms Approach:
- Move indoors any deck furniture or other items that could become dangerous projectiles when there is a threat of high winds.
- Cover all windows. Install permanent storm shutters or board up windows with plywood to help prevent windows from being damaged. Tape does not prevent windows from breaking.
- Brace garage doors with additional support from the inside.
Water Damage – Roof leaks, flooding, storm surge, mold
Storm surge from a hurricane, the rising waters of a flood or damage to interior walls and carpet caused by a compromised roof and be compounded in a very short amount of time if mold sets in. Standing water can also become toxic, an electrocution hazard or even a new habitat for dangerous animals (snakes and crocodiles anyone?) in the murky waters. Steps to lower water risks:
- Check the grading of soil around your foundation to be sure water will flow away from the house when it rains. Install additional drainage if necessary or regrade problem areas.
- Make sure gutters and downspouts are clear of blockages to help shed water away from the home.
- Test your sump pump before storms arrive to make sure it comes on when water flows into the sump pit.
Before, During and After the Storm:
- Stack sandbags around the perimeter of the house and in front of entryways to prevent rising water from entering the property.
- Utilize tarps to help keep rain from entering the property and causing additional damage after the initial event.
- Dry out your property as soon as safely possible after a water event to avoid mold growth.
- Stay away from standing water to keep yourself from being electrocuted or being harmed by other hazards hiding in muddy water such as sewage, debris and animals.
Related reading: “Reduce Your Risk of Mold After a Flood”
Power Outage – Damage to appliances, non-functioning sump pumps, mold growth, theft during vacancy
Storms often cause power outages that can leave you with more problems than you may expect. A sump pump failure can lead to a sludge-filled basement, damaging your furnace and water heater. Lack of A/C can create a ripe environment for mold growth and at times looters may even take advantage of a lack of security. To avoid losses associated with a power outage you can:
- Be sure your sump pump and security alarm are both connected to battery backups.
- Use a generator during the outage. (Remember to keep generators and other alternate power/heat sources outside and never try to power the house wiring by plugging a generator into a wall outlet.)
- If windows and doors have been damaged in the storm, board up your property to keep trespassers and vandals out.
Related reading: “Are Your Tenants Truly Prepared for a Power Outage?”
Fire Damage – Portion or all of investment burnt up in wildfire
If you are new to investing in areas prone to wildfire, you may not be aware of the ways you can make your property less susceptible to catching fire. To make your property more fire-resistant:
- Regularly clean the roof and gutters and underneath decks.
- Create and maintain an area approximately 30 feet away from your property that is free of anything that will burn: wood piles, dried leaves, newspapers, brush, and other landscaping that can burn.
- From 30 feet to 100 feet reduce or replace as much of the most flammable vegetation as possible and prune vegetation. Create “fuel breaks” such as driveways, gravel walkways and lawns.
- Work with neighbors to create spaces up to 200 feet around your homes where vegetation is thinned to remove underbrush, and make sure tall trees do not touch each other to create a continuous canopy.
- Connect garden hoses long enough to reach any area of the home.
- Fill garbage cans, tubs, or other large containers with water if there is wildfire activity in the area.
How to Help Your Tenants Prepare for Severe Weather & Other Emergencies
Some steps, like boarding the property or bringing furniture inside, may happen closer to severe weather arriving in the area, but never put yourself or others in harm’s way by delaying to take shelter or leave an area if you have been told to evacuate. Make sure your tenants know what to do in the event of severe weather, especially if they are new to the area. Be sure you have a plan for staying connected with tenants in the event of severe weather and be ready to step in and help. Making sure your property is ok is important, but your renters’ safety is even more important. You can rebuild a property, but you can’t replace people.
We encourage you to pass along the following resource to your renters: ‘Storm & Hurricane Prep: 15 Essentials for Your “Go Bag”’
Severe Weather Resources from Governmental Agencies
- Educational events and resources from the National Weather Service: Weather and Water Preparedness Events Calendar
- Climate Information from NOAA, Nat’l Centers for Environmental Information: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/climate-information
The Good News about Bad Weather
We hope that after reading this you will be more aware of the severe weather risks you might encounter wherever you invest across our beautiful landscape and have gained more tools to help you develop specific plans for minimizing damage caused by mother nature. Not sure where to begin when developing your mitigation plan? Check out our Spring Maintenance Checklist for a foundational framework!