Farmers Cares, by Paul Quinn

Are You Prepared For A Tornado?

illinois tornado

A tornado damaged numerous homes last night in northern Illinois. This is a solemn reminder that, if you live in an area where a tornado may occur, it is crucial that you and your family are prepared.

The first step is paying attention to the weather conditions and reports. A “tornado watch” means that tornadoes are possible and a “tornado warning” means a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Both should be taken very seriously. You may monitor your weather conditions via your local radio station, television newscast or a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio.

According to The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), if there is a tornado warning you should go to shelter immediately, either in a designated shelter or the lowest building level, like a basement.  If you have no basement then go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level  and stay away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck. Do not open windows.

Danger signs of an approaching tornado are a dark (often greenish) sky, large hail, a large dark low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating) or a loud roar similar to that of a freight train. But, also keep in mind that tornadoes may occur quickly and without any warning and are sometimes proceeded by calm weather or a break in the clouds. This is why it is important to closely monitor local weather reports.

I have also written another post with more tornado tips along with a post regarding an option for repairing your car from hail damage (hail is often paired with tornado weather).

Enjoy the spring, but take tornado watches and warnings seriously and stay safe!

Photo Credit: @TomPurdyWI

Thunderstorm and Lightning Safety Tips

Severe thunderstorms are flaring up across parts of the Midwest, Great Plains and South. With severe thunderstorms comes thunder and lightning. It is important to keep in mind the dangers of lightning and how to keep yourself and your property safe during such weather.

The following are tips from the National Weather Service and National Lightning Safety Institute regarding safety during a thunder and lightning storm:

  • Unplug appliances and electronics when they are not in use or when you will be away from home for a period of time such as a vacation. Having the power switched off does not protect a device if it is still plugged in to the electrical outlet; it must be unplugged to remove it from the electrical circuit. If you know a storm is approaching, take a few minutes to unplug items in the house that are susceptible to a power surge.
  • Move cars into the garage or away from treesIf a garage is available, park the car inside to avoid damage from hail, downed tree limbs or wind-blown debris. If no garage is available, try to relocate the car to a location that’s out in the open to prevent damage from downed trees or tree limbs.
  • Stay away from water and pipes. If a lightning bolt strikes nearby, the electricity can travel through water pipes, so prevent electrocution during a thunderstorm by avoiding the sink, toilet, shower and bath.
  • Don’t use your telephone landlineLightning strikes can send a surge of electricity traveling through the phone lines, resulting in electrocution. Avoid using the telephone during a thunderstorm.
  • Stay away from the windows. There have been many cases involving people who have been struck by lightning while standing near a window. In addition, a downed tree limb or debris could come crashing through a window, resulting in serious injury or even death to anyone situated nearby.
  • Remain in an interior room during a severe thunderstorm.Some severe thunderstorm systems have been known to produce tornadoes, and super cell thunderstorms can produce intense winds that cause damage that’s comparable that which would result from a tornado. During a severe thunderstorm, bring children and pets into an interior room or hallway, and stay far away from windows. The goal is to place as many walls as possible between the residents and the outdoors.

In addition to the tips above, make sure your cell phone is charged, pack a storm preparedness kit (a storm kit should include non-perishable food items, pet food, medication, can openers, batteries, flashlights, a first aid kit and other storm survival essentials). Also, have a battery powered radio or NOAA weather radio in order to get up-to-date information on weather reports.

 

FAQ

Sudden accidental loss vs. continuous leaks, coverage for broken water pipes

Hi Paul, I have home owners insurance. Will it cover broken water pipes under my house?

Thanks for the question. Ensuing damage from broken water pipes may be covered depending on which policy you have. The damage to the pipes is usually excluded. Again, depending on the policy, the damage the water causes may be covered as long as the loss is sudden and accidental, and, if during the winter, you have done all you can to maintain heat in the home. Continuous leaks are typically excluded under most policies. If you have experienced a loss, please turn this in to your carrier immediately.

Pipe losses, left alone, can cause significant damage.

FAQ

Uninsured antique car crushed by a tree, is this covered under homeowners?

Hi Paul, I had an uninsured 1965 mustang parked in front of an outbuilding at my mothers house and a huge tree fell damaging the building and crushing the car. Will her homeowner policy cover the car?

Great question. Under most policy forms this loss is only covered if your mother was negligent. Normally tree losses are not caused by the negligence of the home owner. But if you are unsure, ask your mother to turn the claim in to her carrier for consideration. Thanks for asking.

Winter Storm Power Outage Checklist

power_outage_2008_12_28_1230500509

As freezing weather continues to impact residents throughout the eastern U.S., the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) urges property owners to prepare for possible power outages with the following safety checklists.

ALTERNATIVE HEAT CHECKLIST

WOOD STOVE

  • Maintain at least a 36-inch clearance between the stove and combustible materials, such as furniture and clothing.

  • Prior to using the stove, place a layer of sand or firebrick in the bottom of the firebox.

SPACE HEATER

  • Maintain a 36-inch clearance between the heater and combustible materials, such as bedding, furniture, wall coverings or other flammable items.

  • Do not leave a heater unattended.

  • Electric heaters should be inspected prior to use. Check the cord for fraying, cracking and look for broken wires or signs of overheating in the device itself.

  • Use only heavy-duty extension cords marked with a No. 14 gauge or larger wire.

  • If the heater plug has a grounding prong, use only a grounding (three wire) extension cord.

  • Never run the heater cord (or any cord) under rugs or carpeting.

  • Liquid Fuel-Powered Devices (kerosene or oil heat)

  • Never use gasoline or any other substitute fuel.

  • Allow the heater to cool down prior to refueling.

WOOD FIREPLACE

  • Regular cleaning will keep the fireplace free of obstructions and creosote. If you haven’t had maintenance performed recently, use caution when operating the fireplace and never leave it unattended.

  • Make sure the damper is open.

  • Before use, inspect the chimney and fireplace area for debris and animals that could have taken up residence.

  • Maintain proper clearance around the fireplace and keep it clear of combustible materials such as books, newspapers and furniture.

  • Always close the screen when in use.

  • Keep glass doors open during the fire.

  • Use a fireplace grate.

  • Never burn garbage, rolled newspapers, charcoal or plastic in the fireplace.

  • Avoid using gasoline or any liquid accelerant.

  • Clean out ashes from previous fires and store them in a noncombustible container with a tight-fitting lid. Keep the container outside and away from the house.

  • Make sure the fire is completely out before closing the damper.

GAS FIREPLACE

  • Adjust the millivolt output.

  • Keep glowing embers and logs clean.

  • Inspect and clean air circulation passages and fan.

  • Clean glass as needed. Avoid obstructing vents.

PORTABLE GENERATOR RESOURCES

FACTS ABOUT PORTABLE GENERATORS

  • Portable generators are less expensive to purchase and install than permanent (standby) generators. Without a supplemental fuel supply, they have a relatively short run time and may need to be refueled several times a day during a prolonged power outage.

  • Most portable generators are designed to work with a few appliances or pieces of electrical equipment that may be plugged directly into the generator without the use of a generator transfer switch.

  • This type of generator could be especially useful, but it isn’t recommended if you are operating sensitive equipment or have numerous large appliances or business machines.

  • When using a portable generator, you also will have to purchase an electric power cord to feed the electrical equipment.

  • This should be a heavy-duty outdoor-rated extension cord sized for the total electrical load (voltage and amps) you may need.

  • Choose a cord that exceeds the total expected load in order to prevent excessive heat buildup and degradation of the power cord.

  • Ensure that the cord has three prongs and has no splits, cuts or holes in the external insulation covering.

  • An overloaded power cord can potentially start a fire.

SAFETY CHECKLIST

  • Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from engine exhaust is a common and serious danger that can result in death if generators are used improperly, in particular, if the fuel is not burned completely.

  • Because CO is invisible and odorless, business and/or building owners should install a CO detector to warn of rising CO levels, and test it monthly.

  • Never use generators indoors or outside near windows, vents, or air intakes that could allow CO to come indoors.

  • Maintain plenty of air flow space around the generator.

  • When using an emergency electric power generator, get fresh air immediately if you begin to feel flu like symptoms, sick, dizzy or light headed.

  • Carefully follow all instructions on properly “grounding” the generator.

  • Keep the generator dry. If needed, operate portable generators under an open canopy type structure. Short circuits may occur in wet conditions resulting in the generator catching fire.

FUEL

  • Store fuel in an approved storage container or holding tank designed for such use, and only use fuel that is recommended in the owner’s manual. Never store fuel indoors.

  • Do not keep fuel near the electric generator while the electric generator is in use, as it could start a fire.

  • Never refuel while the generator is running, and always keep a fully charged fire extinguisher located nearby.

  • Keep cords out of the way to avoid injury, but in plain view to allow for visual inspections of any damage, such as fraying or cuts, that could result in a fire.

AVOID BACK FEEDING 

  • Do not “back feed” power into your electrical system by plugging the generator into a wall outlet. Back feeding will put you and potentially others, including utility line workers, at serious risk because the utility transformer can increase the low voltage from the generator to thousands of volts. Some states have laws that make the generator owner responsible for taking steps to make sure that the generator’s electricity cannot feed back into the power lines, and for notifying the local utility of the location of any commercial, industrial, or residential generator.

  • The exterior portions of a generator, even those operated for only a short period of time, can become hot. Avoid touching the generator without protective gear and keep debris clear to avoid a fire.

So with all the severe weather this winter, it is most important that you follow the above safety tips to prevent damage to your home or risk the safety of you and your loved ones.

FAQ

Police Report Needed for Parking Lot Hit and Run?

Hi Paul, I came out of a restaurant and found that someone had hit my parked car and did not leave their information. Can I claim this on my insurance and do I need a police report?

Thanks for your question. Yes you can make a collision claim, subject to your deductible. Unless someone can ID the hit and run driver, you will not need a police report for insurance purposes. I do not know if your local community requires you to report the accident, but for this type of collision claim you will not.

Why Car Thieves Call This “Puffer” Season

I originally wrote this blog post a few years ago, but as bitter cold temperatures continue to plague the U.S. this winter, the issue of “Puffer” car thieves is becoming more prominent as featured on the Today Show earlier this week…

Colorado law enforcement agencies warn against cold weather auto theft in an article titled “Car Thieves Celebrate “Puffer Season!” Puffer refers to a car which has been left running in cold weather as indicated by the visible vapors coming out of its tailpipe. This article is a good reminder that if we leave our cars running to warm up, it allows nothing but opportunity for thieves.

The article also indicates that a recent survey of drivers conducted by the National Insurance Crime Bureau and LoJack found:

  • One-third admit they have left their car while it was running
  • 47% don’t always park in a well-lit area
  • 40% don’t hide their valuables. In fact, nearly half leave mail in their vehicle, a quarter have left a purse or wallet, and almost a third have left bank statements, all of which can put them at risk for identity theft

The article then gives these common sense tips:

  • Park in well-lit areas
  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Report anything suspicious and avoid suspicious looking people
  • Lock your doors
  • Close your windows completely
  • Take your keys out of the car
  • Never leave your car running unattended – not even for a minute
  • Remove all items from the car or hide them from view

Now that the holidays are over and we are back to our regular routine, it is still important to be on our guard. You don’t want to start  2015 with a stolen car.

Picture credit: wordsaboutthings.co.uk

Identify Flood Risks When Snow & Ice Melt

melting

When temperatures rapidly increase, so does the rate at which snow and ice melt. This can be a serious problem for areas that have received large amounts of snow and ice throughout this severe winter season. Frozen soil also increases the risk of flood as water from melting snow and ice is not able to seep into the ground.

The above infographic from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) gives tips on how to prevent home damage from melting snow and ice.

Also, if area flooding is imminent, you must follow the instructions of local emergency officials and especially obey all evacuation orders from local authorities.

Winter Storm Hits Northeast: Driving Emergency Tips

The northeast is being slammed by Winter Storm Juno. If you have to drive, it is important to stay safe. The following are tips for a winter survival kit for your car and what to do if your car gets stranded. These tips are provided by Foremost Insurance Company, a member of the Farmers Insurance Group.

All drivers should carry a survival kit in their car that contains:

  • Cell phone
  • Blankets/sleeping bags
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Knife
  • High calorie, non-perishable food
  • A can and waterproof matches to melt snow for drinking water
  • Sand or non-clumping cat litter
  • Shovel
  • Windshield scraper
  • Tool kit
  • Tow rope
  • Jumper cables
  • Water container
  • Compass
  • Road maps
  • Extra winter clothes and boots

Also, try to keep the vehicle’s gas tank full in case the car gets stranded and to keep the fuel line from freezing. If the road is too snowy to see while driving:

  • Pull off the road and turn on the hazard lights.
  • Stay inside the vehicle. It is easy to become disoriented in the wind and snow. Do not set out on foot unless there is a building in sight where people can take shelter.
  • Run the motor about ten minutes each hour for heat.
  • Open the window a crack to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow.
  • Exercise frequently to keep blood circulating and to keep warm, but don’t overexert.
  • Huddle with other passengers and use coats or blankets to stay warm.
  • In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, floor mats, newspapers or extra clothing for covering — anything to provide additional insulation and warmth.
  • Be visible to rescuers by turning on the dome light at night (being careful to not wear down the battery), tying a distress flag (preferably red) to your antenna or window, and raising the hood to indicate trouble after snow stops falling.
  • If it is necessary to leave the vehicle and proceed on foot once the storm is over, follow the road if possible.
  • If it is necessary to walk across open country, use distant points as landmarks to help maintain a sense of direction.

With a little planning and know-how, it is possible to make this winter a safe and warm one for everyone.

Snow Roof Risks [Infographic]

Snow-Roof-Risks_IBHS

As winter storms continue to plague various regions across the U.S. The above infographic by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) reveals important facts about snow on your roof and the risks it presents.

For safe removal that won’t endanger you or damage your roof, use a snow rake with a long extension arm that will allow you to remove the snow while standing on the ground or hire a snow removal contractor.

I have also written a previous blog post on snow and ice and the strain it causes on your roof.