Batten down your home insurance and National Flood Insurance policies, friends: This year's hurricane season could be a wild ride.
The combination of warm water temperatures in the Atlantic and Caribbean, an uptick in monsoon systems peeling off west Africa and the continued absence of El Nino's warming effect in the central Pacific Ocean have forecasters predicting an above-average and unpredictable hurricane season, which kicks off June 1.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, weighed in with their outlook last week, predicting 13 to 20 named storms for the Atlantic basin this year, seven to 11 likely to become hurricanes, including three to six expected to reach Category 3 or above, with sustained winds in excess of 111 mph.
While the NOAA prediction is well above the seasonal average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three majors, it bears a striking resemblance to what actually transpired last year. The 2012 season, the third most active on record, saw 19 named storms, 10 hurricanes and two majors.
The NOAA forecast is in line with predictions earlier this month by Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center, Colorado State University's Atmospheric Science Department, AccuWeather and others.
Each year, we encourage homeowners to prepare for extreme weather events, depending on how exposed you are to them.
Here are five important steps to take now to protect your home and family, courtesy of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America:
Collect vital information: Make a list of your home insurance policy number(s), your agent's contact information and website, and store all of that in your wallet, purse or on your phone. Agencies increasingly post information about claims procedures online and even via social media, especially if the agency itself has sustained damage.
Prepare a home inventory: Document, photograph or take video of your household belongings, paying particular attention to jewelry, antiques and collectables. Then, make a duplicate set. Store one in a safe deposit box along with your insurance documents, stock certificates, deeds, titles and passbooks, and the other at home in a fireproof and waterproof container.
Storm-proof your home: Address needed exterior repairs. Trim and clear tree branches that could become projectiles in high wind. Plan to cover windows and doors with plywood or protective panels. Secure items like boats that are too large to be brought inside.
Prepare to evacuate: Assemble a hurricane kit (food, water, first aid kit, needed medicine, flashlights, a transistor radio, fresh batteries, etc.). Gas your vehicle. Plan to transport pets. Know your evacuation route.
Plan to stay in place: Secure bookcases and tall furniture pieces to the wall. Plan to move beds, cribs and tall furniture away from windows. Gas up your emergency generator. Make room to store outdoor objects such as toys and tools. If your home is in danger of storm surge, find a room on an upper floor without windows, or an interior room at ground level in which to ride out the worst of the storm.
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Jay MacDonald is a Bankrate contributing editor and co-author of "Future Millionaires' Guidebook," an e-book by Bankrate editors and reporters.