Expect the Unexpected
WRITTEN BY KATHLEEN DUFFY COURIER POST STAFF
A storm is coming. In the future, at some point, with or without notice. The storm will bring high winds and heavy precipitation. Grocery store shelves will be bare and news broadcasters will dramatically warn, watch and wait as the storm center draws closer and closer.
As the good folks of Joplin, Mo., know all too well, sometimes a natural disaster can take down nearly everything in its path.
But a summer of floods, tropical storm and tornado warnings here in South Jersey drove home the point that, when it comes to wild weather, it pays to think ahead and protect your house.
“The main idea is to be prepared,” said Gary Szatkowski, meteorologist-in-charge
at the National Weather Service in Mount Holly.
Taking on water
This year, flooding has had the largest impact to the South Jersey region. Countless homes have incurred damage from rivers and creeks overflowing their
According to Szatkowski, homeowners should know if they’re in a floodplain.
“When it comes to flooding, you can purchase flood insurance,” he said. It’s
inexpensive and can offer peace of mind during uncertain weather conditions, he
“It’s important to know where you are relative to sea level.”
Szatkowski also recommends moving precious items to a higher floor if you’re in
a flood zone. If it’s time to replace a hot water heater, move it to the first floor if
Sump pumps are great for keeping basements dry, but only if they are functioning.
“It’s good to have a battery backup on your sump pump,” said Tom Michalik,
Remodeling Contractor and Managing Member of Tom Michalik Builders in Cherry Hill.
In the case of Hurricane Irene in August, thousands of people in the area lost power for days, causing basements to flood.
It’s a necessity to have a full service pump and to recharge the battery at least once per year. Check the battery to make sure it’s charged with a gauge or switch the sump pump over to battery operation to make sure it’s working correctly.
“You can take the battery up to a place like Pep Boys for a minimal cost,” said Michalik. Any similar store has battery chargers. He said it’s also good to have an extra battery on hand, just in case.
As for the type of battery, it’s better to use a marine deep cycle over a car battery. Marine batteries are designed for constant running and can be found in any boat supply store, Michalik said.
Homeowners should perform operational checks on their sump pumps regularly by filling the sump crock with about two buckets of water. When water rises to a
certain point, turn the pump on and watch as it pumps the water out of the basement.
And, pump or no pump, be sensible when it comes to things you care about.
“If you’re prone to water in your basement,” Michalik said, “make sure
items are elevated off the floor.”
While not posing as big of a threat as in places such as Florida, Louisiana, and
North Carolina, hurricanes have caused significant damage and disruption to daily life in South Jersey.
“It’s not like our homes are built hurricane-proof,” said Michael Crugnale, Broker
Associate at Century 21 Real Estate in Washington Township. “Watch the weather forecast.”
When buying a house, Crugnale recommends potential homeowners look for mold stains and pay careful attention to the age of windows.
In a high-wind event, window shutters can help protect the entire house, according to Szatkowski. During sustained wind, cracks and breaks in a window can allow air access into the house and heighten the chance of damage.
“The fundamental thing is to keep the wind out of the house,” he said.
In the event of any severe storm, “Secure your lawn furniture or anything that is not tied down that can become projectile,” said Michalik. Lawn furniture, grills or umbrellas can easily fly through windows during high winds.
If there’s any chance of electricity for an extended period of time, homeowners,
especially those with well water, should fill their bathtubs with water to be used in
flushing and refilling their toilet. “You need power to run the pump to get
the water out of the well,” Michalik said.
Prudent to prune
Unkempt trees pose one of the biggest hazards to homeowners during storms.
Tim Lenzsch, a state-certified tree expert, based in Somers Point at the Tree Man Professional Tree Service, recommends hiring a certified arborist to identify
possible issues with trees near a home.
It’s imperative to call ahead hurricane season and trees should be inspected at
least every other year. “Trees add value to your property,” said Lenzsch, but knowing which types of trees surround your house is beneficial.
“Some trees are a lot more brutal,” he said. “The (limbs) tend to break in high winds.”
White oak trees don’t break as easily, but silver and red maples and poplar trees are brittle. Deciduous trees, those that lose their leaves each season, have the potential to dump debris on the roof and clog gutters.
Pruning trees can help save time and stress. Having an arborist come out to cut
out any dead or hanging branches is suggested to reduce the risk of wind
damage. A tree pruned incorrectly can damage the entire tree. Over time,
branches can rot and die back into the trunk area.
“If you look at your tree and it’s making you nervous for one reason or another, then call a certified arborist to come out and inspect the tree,” Lensch said.
Check for mushrooms near the roots of a tree, mechanical damage from bulldozers, and peeling bark for signs of decay. Hollow trees pose a major threat, as well. Trees with dead branches near gardens, playhouses, doghouses, your car, or even nice shrubs can cause damage during high winds. Even a smaller branch can damage shingles, gutters, or plants.
While tornadoes are rare in the area, hazardous high-wind conditions can occur.
According to Michalik, trailer-type homes not tied to the ground are the most likely to incur damage.
“Most residential construction today, or even back 40 to 50 years ago, homes were bolted down to the foundation.”
Brick or mason structures are less susceptible to wind damage than wood-
framed houses. All brick or stone siding is safer than vinyl.
Families should designate a safe room in their house in case of a tornado or severe hurricane, suggests Michalik. Usually, this is the basement. If a homeowner doesn’t have a basement, standing within a doorway away from windows is the next best thing, experts say.
Personal safety is key during tornadoes.
“It can be so strong that there’s no good way to secure a building against it,” said
Szatkowski. It’s imperative to have as many floors and walls as possible between you and the funnel cloud.
“The good news here in this area is that a lot of the tornadoes we get are on the
weaker side,” he added. As we learned this summer, even New
Jersey can get an earthquake.
Earthquakes can pose a threat by cracking foundations and disrupting the general order in homes. “It’s Mother Nature,” said Crugnale. “Nothing’s for certain.”
But if earthquakes are rare, snowstorms certainly are not.
As South Jersey inches toward winter, it’s a necessity to prepare for the possibility of blizzards.
“If you’re in a well-constructed house, a blizzard is just a lot of snow and a lot of
wind,” said Szatkowski.
Keep an eye on your roof, he suggested. After a storm passes and the sun returns, a thaw and freeze cycle begins where snow melts during the day and freezes into ice at night. Water tries to work its way down and gets stuck in gutters and shingles. This can back up into plywood and cause leaks.
Buying a bag of rock salt to melt snow and ice is a good investment. “Keep it in the garage,” said Michalik. “It’s not going to hurt anything.”
Having ergonomically correct snow shovels, water, batteries and a working snow
blower all reduce negative impacts of blizzards.
“The main thing is to just have common sense and to just look around you and be proactive in protecting yourself in these types of events,” said Michalik.