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No matter how the storm tracks, it's smart to prepare for Joaquin

As Atlantic storms go, the one that hit the United States in mid-June of 1972 was hardly a record-breaker. Although initially classified as a hurricane, it was downgraded to a strong storm by the time it hit the mid-Atlantic — yet the heavy rains and high tides driven 18 inches above normal proved devastating: Tropical Storm Agnes caused the deaths of 19 Marylanders including three Baltimore area children whose car was swept off Ruxton Road, and the storm flooded thousands of homes, forcing engineers to seriously consider blowing a hole in the Conowingo Dam to prevent a more catastrophic failure.

That experience might prove useful as Hurricane Joaquin approaches, its precise path still uncertain. Even if the hurricane with its 120 mile per hour winds stays out in the Atlantic Ocean through the weekend, as a growing number of computer models predict, the consequences of the heavy rains it brings to the Eastern United States could be alarming. Forecasters are talking about up to 20 inches of rain in some places, a record amount by any standard.

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Given that much of Maryland and its neighbors are already saturated from more typical seasonal rainfall, the experience could be similar to Agnes or perhaps to Superstorm Sandy, the October 2012 storm that proved the second costliest in U.S. history. Maryland suffered only a glancing blow in that one (particularly compared the New Jersey, New York and New England), but the results were still miserable: Widespread power outages that affected hundreds of thousands and evacuations in the lower Eastern Shore, including Smith Island.

Modern science has achieved miracles, but, unfortunately, rerouting major storms for public convenience isn't one of them. That leaves those who live in Joaquin's potential path only one appropriate option: Prepare for the worst. Given the experience of disasters like Agnes and Sandy, that chiefly means setting aside certain emergency supplies and preparing one's home and family for the challenges associated with a hurricane. Given that the heavy rains associated with Joaquin could begin to become an issue in Maryland even before the weekend, the sooner those chores are accomplished the better.

Here are some of the things that the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends: Have an evacuation plan, stock a supply kit with flashlight, batteries, cash, first aid supplies and copies of critical information, stock your home with food and water for a power failure of at least several days and secure the outside of your home from such hazards as dead branches or clogged gutters and put away potential projectiles like trash cans or patio furniture. You should also have a way to communicate with all family members, have cell phones fully charged, have a way to check appropriate weather and emergency websites or at least listen to radio or watch TV, and keep your car in good working order, the gas tank filled and a change of clothing packed.

Of course, FEMA also recommends that one "consider buying flood insurance," but perhaps that's a bit ambitious for anyone's "to-do" list when a major storm is only hours way.

Still, this is not a moment to panic, merely to take some sensible precautions. Far better to get your batteries and jugs of water now while the stores are stocked than to wait until a storm actually hits and the prospects for finding either are greatly diminished. Bringing in the patio furniture is a no-brainer for those who have had a window smashed in by flying debris, but the secret is to anticipate the problem. The plug-in cell phone charger is useful now, not so much when the power is out for a week.

And if Joaquin proves less than expected? Well, that's the beauty of preparedness — from emergency phone lists to first aid supplies, fresh batteries and charged phones, there's no harm and relatively little cost to any of it (perhaps other than $2,000 generators or equally expensive insurance policies). The hurricane season runs through November and there's something to be said for the peace of mind that knowing what to do — and the experience of having done it before — provides you and your family. When a serious storm like Agnes or Sandy does strike, rarely does anyone sit around and think, "I wish I hadn't been so ready for this moment."

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