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It’s that time of year again: hurricane season. The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and the Eastern Pacific season May 15, and both run through November 30. During an average season, 12 tropical storms will form over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico, and six of these will become hurricanes. During that time, your home is threatened by disasters including destructive winds, tornadoes, storm surge flooding and inland flooding caused by heavy rains.
Did you know that pools face special risks of their own in extreme weather? But fear not: Proper preparation both throughout the year and directly before a storm can limit damage during tropical storms or hurricanes. This guide will help you get your pool and patio area prepared so you can worry less about damage and more about your own safety when the storm hits.
People may ask, "Won't the pool overflow if we don't at least lower the water?" Yes it may, but no more so than if a patio or a plot of grass were there instead. Adequate drainage has most always been provided for in the design of the pool. Keeping the water in the pool provides the important weight to hold the pool in the ground. An empty pool is subject to "floating" or "popping" out of the ground due to "lift" pressure from excessive ground water caused by the heavy rains that may accompany the storm.
Set up a siphon hose before the hurricane hits, using a garden hose running from the pool edge to a point 2-3 feet lower. Leave the hose in place so that you can start the siphon quickly if the pool begins to overflow.
To prepare a pool for a hurricane, circuit breakers at the main electrical panel should be turned off to prevent pump motors, lighting, chlorinators, and heaters from operating during the worst parts of the storm. Run the pumps and filters while it’s calm, but when heavy rain, wind and lightning arrive, shut them off for the duration of the hurricane.
After the equipment is shut off, wrap the pump motor, time clock, light transformers and electric heaters with a waterproof plastic membrane and tie it securely in place to prevent sand and driving water from entering. If flooding is expected, it may be best to disconnect these devices and store them in a dry place, especially the pump, if a pool pump is submerged, the motor will likely be ruined. Spend some time if necessary to clear the areas around the equipment pad of mulch, leaves, debris and soil, to ensure that water drains away rapidly from the equipment pad.
Loose objects such as chairs, tables, toys and pool cleaning tools can become dangerous projectiles in hurricane force winds and should be stored inside of buildings. It's not advisable to throw patio furniture into the pool unless it is a last resort. If it is necessary to do so, gently place these items into the pool to prevent possible damage to the interior finish and remove as soon as possible to avoid staining. Skimmer lids should be screwed in place to avoid becoming a Frisbee®. Inspect the fence for loose sections, and secure any loose light posts or signs.
Some damage to the frame of a screen structure may be prevented if you provide a "vent" for wind to flow through. Consider removing screen panels on opposite sides of the enclosure by pulling out the vinyl spine that retain the panels.
To prevent contamination from the anticipated debris and excessive storm water, good swimming pool hurricane preparation suggests that you add a "shock" dose of liquid or granular chlorine. Lower the pH first to around 7.2 for best results, and run the filter after shocking for several hours to circulate.
It a natural instinct to run out and put on a pool cover to prepare a pool for a hurricane. DO NOT DO IT! Storms bring wind, and wind can cause falling branches and other flying debris that can damage pool covers. It's much easier to remove debris from the pool after the storm, than it would be to replace an expensive cover.
Patio and Yard Preparation
General yard and tree upkeep throughout the year can help you be prepared in the event of a hurricane. Keep large trees around your home trimmed and be especially wary of weak and low-hanging branches. Remove Spanish moss and keep limbs less than five feet long to reduce the risk of them becoming weak and breaking in strong gusts of wind or heavy rainfall. Have branches close to utility lines trimmed by a professional, or contact your utility company to have the tree trimmed. Gravel has been known to shred vinyl house lining, so consider replacing gravel and rock walkways with shredded bark or wood chips.
If your pool is in a lanai or screened-in area, your structure is also at risk for damage. Remove screening panels and doors to create a vent for the wind to escape. If very strong winds are a guarantee and you suspect wind damage is inevitable, you can also cut “X” shapes into multiple screens around the pool to reduce the wind resistance. Insurance won’t cover the slashes, but rescreening is significantly less expensive than replacing the entire framework.
Remove all loose items from the pool area, including furniture and plants. If possible, bring gas and charcoal grills indoors, but never use them once they’re inside. For heavier, bulkier outdoor objects, anchor them to something solid and secure with rope or chains. Never store propane tanks in your home or garage. Instead, chain them in an upright position to a secure object away from your home. Some choose to toss things like lawn furniture into the pool to prevent it from flying around in strong winds, but because it could cause damage to your pool’s finish and you risk chemical damage to your furniture (especially if you super-chlorinate the pool water), it is not always your best option.
When the storm has cleared, check your surroundings before inspecting for pool damage. If you chose to submerge items in the pool, remove them as soon as possible. Don’t use your pool water for drinking or sanitation as it may be contaminated or still super-chlorinated. Inspect your pool’s plumbing, pumps and filters for cracks and leaks. Check water and chemical levels, and set your valves to the circulation position before turning on the pumps. Then turn the power back on to the outlets.
Don’t reconnect the power until debris is removed and you are sure there is no damage to the electrical system. You may want to consider calling a professional before you turn the system back on, especially if you suspect electrical damage.
After a hurricane, an empty pool is subject to "floating" or "popping" out of the ground due to "lift" pressure from excessive ground water caused by heavy rains that may have accompanied the storm. If it appears necessary to drain the pool due to excessive debris, mud or damage, start by draining less than half the water, cleaning the pool and refilling. If a complete draining is required, wait until the ground is less saturated and any high water tables have receded.
Remove large objects by hand and use a "leaf rake" or "leaf bagger" to remove smaller debris from the pool. Do not attempt to use the pool's vacuum system for large debris that is likely to plug the plumbing. A Leaf Rake type of skimmer net is best for removing heavy leaf volume from the surface or floor. Bring a large trash can on the pool deck to empty the leaf net into while cleaning.
Remove waterproof plastic membrane from electrical devices and be sure they are dry before turning circuit breakers on again. If these devices have been exposed to water, they should be checked by a licensed professional. Then turn on electricity, prime the filter system, and check for normal operation. Backwash or Drain to Waste to lower water level in pool to mid-skimmer.
If your electrical power has not been restored, you can still manually clean the pool of debris using a Leaf Rake or garden hose powered pool vacuum. Test the water and add chemicals as needed, using a pool brush to circulate the water and help distribute the chemicals. Daily skimming and brushing, and a good chlorine and pH level will keep the pool from turning worse, until power can be restored to the pump.
Start the filter pump and run the system for long hours each day. When the water has attained proper clarity then reset the time clock for a normal daily cycle. Backwash the filter as needed to maintain flow rates.
Readjust the pH, total alkalinity, calcium hardness and conditioner levels and continue to check them carefully over several days. Heavy addition of soils or debris to the pool can cause dramatic changes to water chemistry. Balancing is important to help chlorine sanitize the water and to prevent staining.
To prevent contamination from the storm debris and excessive storm water add a "shock" dose of liquid or granular chlorine to the pool water. If your pool was flooded and has turned the color of soil, a flocculant can be used to sink the heavy solids to the pool floor, for vacuuming. Heavy soil or debris will likely raise the phosphate level in the pool. Using a phosphate remover chemical is recommended for flooded pools.
It is important to monitor the overall operation of the entire system for several days after a hurricane to be sure everything is operating properly, and there are no electrical hazards, pool leaks or flooding dangers.
Besides the care of your pool, there are (of course!) many safety measures to consider in the event of a hurricane or other tropical storm. The following resources will help keep you, your family, and your home ahead of the storm.
The National Hurricane Center of the National Weather Service has helpful tips for ensuring you and your family are prepared for a hurricane’s arrival.
The American Red Cross has great information on disaster alerts and preparation.
Ready.gov has information on hurricane preparation, as well as information on preparing for other natural disasters.
The National Weather Service is one of the best resources to get up-to-date information on hurricanes that are headed your way and those which are still forming.
There is only so much you can do to prevent damage to your pool once a hurricane is on its way. Being as well-prepared as possible ahead of time and proactive once the warning is issued can make a world of difference. Remember to always put your own safety first — pools can be repaired, but you and your family are irreplaceable!
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