Hail Storm Dangers

Hail doesn’t discriminate and rarely comes with an advanced warning – it can happen anywhere, at any time. Between 2000 and 2013, U.S. insurance companies paid out more than $54 billion in hail damage claims, with 70% paid between 2008 and 2013. In 2015 alone, the United States had more than 5,000 hailstorms. While most hail damage affects property and crops, unpredictable storm conditions can also put you in harm’s way. The following are three reasons why you should be wary of hail storms.

1. Hail can be as small as a pea (1/4 inch in diameter), as big a softball (4.5 inches in diameter), or even bigger in rare cases. The largest hailstone ever recorded in the U.S. fell in Vivian, Nebraska in July of 2010, measuring eight inches in diameter and weighing 1.9 pounds. Can weather forecasters predict the size of hail in advance? Sometimes. Hail forms when a strong storm’s updraft (upward-moving current of air) carries rain into freezing layers of the atmosphere, creating tiny hailstones. They get bigger when they run into super-cooled water droplets. If these updrafts are especially strong, they can hold the small hailstones aloft, allowing them to grow larger until eventually they become too heavy and fall to the ground. In other words, the stronger the storm, the larger the hail. Fortunately, baseball-sized and larger hail isn’t very common, on average just 24 people per year are reported injured by hail. But such injuries can be very dangerous and painful,  so it’s important to pay attention to your local forecast if you suspect storms are nearby.

2. No matter its size, hail still poses major risks. Small hail (half an inch in diameter) can reach speeds of 20 mph and usually comes down in larger quantities than large hail, creating a greater risk for damage. What is the typical scale of a hail storm? It varies considerably. Hail falls in paths known as “swaths,” or “streaks,” which can cover anywhere from a few acres to 100 miles wide and 10 miles long. Dense swaths of hail of any size can do serious damage to both people and property.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to prevent major hail damage to your home and cars. But if you live in a hail-prone part of the United States, you can take a few steps to lessen the aftermath of the next major storm:

  • Keep your car parked in a garage if possible. If you don’t have access to a garage, cover it with heavy blankets for a little protection.
  • Consider impact-resistant shingles for your roof.
  • Install storm shutters on your windows and doors to protect them from shattering.

3. Any type of thunderstorm can produce hail, but “supercell” storms (severe, rotating thunderstorms) are responsible for most big hailstones. If you see large hail (the size of a quarter or larger) that could mean the storm has tornado activity as well. What signs point to a possible tornado? Large hail usually falls north of a tornado, but just because you see hail doesn’t mean there’s a funnel on the ground. If a storm suddenly drops hail, immediately take cover and listen to your weather radio for storm reports in your area.

If you’re inside, you should stay there until the storm completely passes:

  • Make sure everyone is safe and indoors.
  • Stay away from windows and doors.
  • Don’t go outside for any reason.

If you’re driving, try to get somewhere safe like a garage, gas station, or bridge that’s nearby:

  • Do not leave your car until it stops hailing.
  • Cover your eyes, and if you can, get on the floor or lie down on the seat with your back to the windows.
  • Protect small children with your body or heavy clothing.

If you get caught outside during a hailstorm and can’t get inside a structure, protect as much of your head and body as possible:

  • Avoid ditches and low areas that could suddenly flood.
  • Don’t seek shelter under a tree, as it can lose limbs and may attract lightning.

Most types of hail can pose significant risk to you and your property. But with a little upfront preparation and some common-sense safety measures, you can keep your home and family safe the next time this weather threat emerges.

Tips For Keeping Valuables Safe

According to the FBI’s latest statistics, property crimes in 2015 resulted in more than $14 billion in losses, and the total value of stolen property, including precious items like jewelry, was more than $12.4 billion. If you own your home, you might be surprised to know that your standard homeowner’s insurance policy won’t necessarily cover the loss of your most expensive possessions.

If you want to completely protect your prized possessions from events like natural disaster, fire, vandalism, or theft, you have two options for increasing your standard insurance coverage and three options to ensure their physical safety:

1. Raise the limit of your home insurance plan’s liability
Increasing your homeowner’s liability limit is the cheapest option available for protecting your valuables. To keep coverage plans affordable, standard homeowner’s insurance typically only covers about $1,500 worth of valuables when it comes to liability for theft.  If you raise that limit, you can protect more value. But the policy may still restrict how much money you can claim per piece. For example, you still may only be able to claim $1,500 on a piece of jewelry even though your overall policy limit is $5,000.

2. “Schedule” your individual items by purchasing additional coverage or “rider” policies
Adding a rider to your homeowner’s policy will provide you with broader coverage, though you may end up paying more in premiums. Riders are add-ons that provide supplementary benefits at an additional cost, and they cover all types of losses, including accidents. While a standard homeowner’s policy wouldn’t cover your diamond ring if you accidentally dropped it down the drain, a rider could.

Riders are also used to cover items whose individual values exceed the standard $1,500 limit that’s typical of homeowner’s insurance. Fine jewelry, art, antiques, sterling silver, firearms and high-end sports equipment (like golf clubs or scuba gear) are typical items covered by insurance riders. Before you take out a rider on any item, you must have it professionally appraised.

3. Store your valuables in places burglars aren’t likely to look.
According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI), hiding valuables in hollowed-out books, false wall outlets, and even inside house plants can keep thieves from finding them. Avoid the natural inclination to keep pricey or sentimental items in your jewelry box or bedside drawer, because storing these things in obvious places can compromise their safety.

4. Guard against natural disasters.
Your precious items can get damaged in the event of a flood, earthquake, or other natural disaster. Identifying your most valuable pieces and taking simple low-cost and no-cost measures can provide added protection. Start by creating a photographic record of your valuable pieces and store the files in the cloud or on a flash drive outside of your home so you have evidence to give your insurance company in the event of a loss. And if your valuables are stored in the basement, consider moving them to a higher location in your home to prevent possible water damage.

5. Protect your identifying information, too.
If your items are stored in a safe-deposit box, don’t keep identifying information on or near your key (that includes the name of the bank where the box is located, or the box number). If a burglar gets a hold of your keys, he’ll know exactly where your safe-deposit box is.

Pro Tip: Home safes can be great for storing important documents, but they’re not ideal for precious items like jewelry or collector’s items. To keep those as secure as possible, invest in a safe-deposit box at a bank, which offers better protection. However, if you need regular access to certain jewelry, coins, or other valuables, then a home safe may be best. Taking the right preventive measures to safeguard your valuables can spare you from future heartache in the event of a natural disaster, theft, or unforeseen damage. By arming yourself with all the information available, you’ll be empowered to make a decision that eases your mind and keeps your most valued possessions as safe as possible.

Dangerous Floods in History

The top five deadliest floods in world history occurred when the Huang He (Yellow) River in China exceeded its banks. The yellow silt that provoked the river’s name can pile up higher than the land around it, causing the water to spill out of its causeway and onto the flat land surrounding it. Natural ice dams add to the problem. In an effort to control the damage, the Chinese government has built channels, dams and dikes to moderate the flow.

The deadliest flood came in 1931, when between 1 and 4 million people were killed. Thirty-four thousand square miles (88,000 sq km) of land were flooded, leaving 80 million people without homes. In 1887, natural flooding claimed between 1 and 2 million lives.

Strategic military flooding of the river top the third and fourth deadliest spots. In 1642, approximately 300,000 people died to flooding, famine, and plague when the Ming governor of Kaifeng ordered his men to break dikes along the river in an attempt to drown rebels assaulting his city. In 1938, the river was again used as a defensive weapon to halt the advance of invading Japanese troops, killing nearly a million people.

The worst dam collapse in history occurred in 1975, when significant rainfall following a typhoon assaulted the Banqiao dam on the Ru River in China. Almost 4 feet of rain poured down in a single day. A smaller dam upstream broke, sending a wall of water rushing downstream. A total of 62 dams failed in the incident, with walls of water between 10 and 20 feet high pouring onto the plains below. In an effort to control the flooding, some dams were deliberately destroyed with hopes of relieving some of the pressure. Approximately 230,000 people were killed.

Although China takes a frequent beating from flooding, the Netherlands also boast a number of deadly floods in its history. High tides and storms were responsible for the deaths of approximately 100,000 people in the Netherlands and England in 1099. A violent weather pattern known as a “Great Storm” created a storm tide in 1287 that broke a dike and killed up to 80,000 people. The same storm killed people in England. In 1421, the tenth deadliest flood in the world occurred when storms caused dikes to collapse. Water flowed across the lowlands, killing nearly 10,000.

The deadliest natural disaster in American history was the Hurricane of 1900 in Galveston, Texas. The Category 4 storm killed over 6,000 people, with most official reports citing closer to 8,000 dead. Storm surge killed many on trains attempting to evacuate the city. Floodwaters destroyed bridges and telegraph lines, keeping those outside of the city from realizing the extent of the damage for some time.

In fact, storm surge deaths caused by hurricanes dominate the list of flood dangers in the United States. These include the second most dangerous storm, the Okeechobee Hurricane in 1928, which caused over 2,500 deaths. In contrast, Hurricane Katrina claimed fewer than 2,000 lives.

Other dangerous incidents of flooding include a 1972 dam failure in Buffalo Creek, West Virginia. The dam, declared “satisfactory” only four days before the disaster, set off a chain reaction, as pressure from first broken dam caused a second to burst, and then a third. More than 132 million gallons of water were released, claiming 125 lives while injuring more than 1,100 people. Almost all 5,000 of the residents downstream were left homeless.

A 1976 flash flood in Colorado’s Big Thompson Canyon after excessive rainfall created powerful water that ultimately killed 144 people and resulted in almost $40 million in damages. Waters reached speeds of more than 30 feet per second, moving 250-ton boulders with their powerful currants.

In the Great Flood of 1993, excessive rainfall in the Mississippi River basin caused significant flooding that did $20 billion in damages over a period of several months.

Generator Safety Tips

Whether it’s a hurricane or a routine power outage, navigating a dark house is never fun. That’s why many people choose to install backup generators in their homes. A backup generator can power your home until regular electricity resumes.  This also proves useful for powering sump pumps during heavy rains which can result in major flooding and water damage.

While backup generators can come in handy in a pinch, owners should know the right way to install and maintain them. Knowing what to do can help reduce risks like fire, electrical damage, injuries and more. Here are nine things to do now if you have (or will soon have) a backup generator.

  1. Review your local laws. Depending on your state, you may be responsible for making sure your generator’s current doesn’t feed back into power lines. (Learn why this matters below in number eight.) You might also be required to give local utility companies a head’s up about your generator.
  2. Keep the surrounding area clear. Backup generators give off a lot of heat. Help prevent a fire by keeping any items far away from it
  3. Check the ventilation. This one is best left to the pros during the installation. If your generator doesn’t have enough room to properly ventilate, dangerous carbon monoxide can build up.
  4. Invest in a carbon monoxide detector. Speaking of carbon monoxide, you’ll definitely want to invest in a carbon monoxide detector if you have a backup generator. It will warn you if levels are rising so—a good thing, since carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal.
  5. Keep it dry. Wet conditions can lead to short circuits—and that could lead to a generator fire. For this reason, keep your generator in a dry place. An open-canopy structure can help protect it if you’re worried about water.
  6. Stash a fire extinguisher close by. Consider it an added precaution in case a fire was to break out. (Check out this handy fire extinguisher guide before you buy.)
  7. Corral the cords. Cords should be out of any foot paths, yet still easy to access. You’ll want to check them regularly to see if they’re frayed or cut—both types of damage could cause a fire.
  8. Say no to wall outlets. Plugging your generator into a wall outlet is known as “back feeding,” and it’s a bad idea. That’s because the low voltage from the generator can increase to thousands of volts when it passes through a utility transformer. And that could put you and utility workers at serious risk. Instead, plug your generator into a manual transfer switch that distributes power in a safer manner.
  9. Hand off. Backup generators heat up fast. Protect yourself from potential skin burns by putting on protective gear before touching your backup generator.

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Checking For Water Damage

Your home protects you from the elements, but heavy rains can weaken that protection. With a little maintenance and a lot of vigilance, it’s not hard to stay safe and dry.

Spring rainstorms are a fact of life in many areas of the country, and they help keep things green, even if they keep you inside. But when they get heavy, it’s time to start thinking about the potential impact all that water has on your home. The first step is finding and fixing any immediate problems as soon as it’s safe to do so. Then, you’ll want to take measures to prevent those problems from happening during the next downpour!

Where is all that rain going?
Your roof and gutters form a key line of defense for your home – and in a storm, they’re vulnerable, because so many things can damage them. Trees, hail, and other objects can create weaknesses that might lead to leaks in your roof, so check for missing shingles and other issues. And keep your gutters clear so all that water drains properly.

Are you checking everywhere?
Water dripping from the ceiling is hard to miss. Water in your crawl space, however, can easily go undetected because hardly anyone ever checks there. Don’t forget to look down there after a storm (or have a professional do it) to make sure everything is nice and dry. If you do see moisture, you’ll want to get it out with a sump pump as soon as possible.

And don’t just look up – another place to check is your home’s exterior, whether it’s siding, brick, or another material. Weak spots can be hard to see, so look at various times of the day in different lighting conditions.

Of course, you’ll want to make sure your doors and windows are properly sealed to keep the elements out, too.

What about around your property?
Storm water has to go somewhere, and if your property doesn’t drain well, or if runoff goes toward your foundation, you could have problems. So watch for patterns, and grade property so it drains away from your home if possible. Always be wary of hillsides and tilting trees after heavy storms, because the land might not be stable.

And don’t forget to keep storm drains clear of leaves and other debris. This can prevent flooding both on the streets and your own property.

What should you do during the storm?
During powerful storms, stay inside. This is not the time to check your roof, your exterior, or your property unless there’s an emergency and you know it’s safe to go out. Monitor your interior, making sure no water is getting in. If it is, do what you can to alleviate the situation in the moment, even if it means just placing something under a leak to collect the water. For more serious problems, though, remember that safety is the most important thing. If your basement is flooding, for example, don’t go down there – you could be trapped and even drown.

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What Can Happen

Ignoring the importance of regular maintenance to your gutters and roof could eventually lead to several thousand dollars worth of interior damage.  This damage could result in mold growth, and structural issues within the home.  As seen in the pictures below, a clogged gutter, (filled with just leaves), resulted in severe interior water damage and mold growth, while also compromising the sheathing.  The drywall and insulation needed to be removed, the sheathing had to be treated and the interior was structurally dried, all because of poor maintenance.  Remember, the coming of summer doesn’t just mean a change of weather.  It also is a reminder of several household maintenance items that should be addressed.