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Batten the hatches.

It's official.

The above-average 2006 hurricane season will include as many as 16 named storms, with up to 10 of them hurricanes and the potential for six of them to be major hurricane headaches.

And that could be a conservative estimate.

Last year, weather forecasters called for up to 15 tropical storms, with as many as nine becoming hurricanes, and up to five major hurricanes -- winds of at least 111 mph. Instead Mother Nature spawned a record 26 named storms, 14 hurricanes and a record seven major or intense hurricanes. The 2005 season was also the first time there were four Category 5 hurricanes in one season, a season that also accounted for the most deaths in a single hurricane season, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC)

The season also spawned Hurricane Katrina, the nation's greatest natural disaster on record, a disaster that lingers today. It only takes one and that one -- like Hurricane Katrina -- doesn't even have to be a direct hit on a major metropolitan area.

The average season, by the way, comes with 10 to 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center (CPC), the NHC and the Hurricane Research Division (HRD).

Limited wind shear, to help break up storms, and warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico waters are in part responsible for the above-average forecast.

Now, you have all the warnings and the potential for even more severe weather.

It's time to turn your attention to preparing your home to weather the worst.

Here's what the experts say.

  • Windows. Masking tape won't prevent windows from shattering and high winds can turn unprotected windows into sharp, piercing projectiles. Your home should have double- or triple-glazed windows to serve not only as wind barriers but also as energy-efficient insulation, greater fire protection and noise abatement fixtures for your home.

    Even triple-glazed windows that aren't protected can offer easy access to wind borne missiles. Protect your windows with permanent storm shutters (not the cosmetic variety) or temporary, less expensive plywood covers. Don't nail or staple gun the plywood over the windows, as frantic homeowners are often shown doing during televised news broadcasts of approaching storms. Wind and wind- forced water can easily loosen nails and staples. Fasten plywood covers with screws or lag bolts long enough to penetrate the wall studs around the window, not just the siding or wall covering.

    Protected windows also reduce the risk of roof damage. Once hurricane force winds are inside your home, they'll want to equalize pressure with the air outside. In the process, strong winds will blow off roofs and take down walls.

  • Doors. Your garage door is the structural element in your home most likely to fail first in a hurricane. An unreinforced garage door is most susceptible to gale force winds because it offers a broad, weak surface for winds to batter and break.

    The necessary reinforcement work can be a do-it-yourself job -- adding girts across the back of the door and strengthening the glider wheel tracks. You should also replace old or damaged garage doors with a stronger model and reinforce it too. Single-car garage doors and windowless garage doors are safer.

    Likewise, double-sided entry doors or French doors are more susceptible to damage than a single door. Add a heavy-duty dead bolt or replace the existing dead bolt with a stronger one. Add sturdy slide bolts at the top and bottom of the inactive door and replace all existing hinge screws with longer screws that extend further into the doors and frame. Replace old or damaged doors with new, stronger models.

    Plywood adds an extra layer of protection over sliding glass doors, French doors and other double doors. Just be sure the door you cover with plywood is not the home's only entrance or exit.

  • Structure. You may need professional help to fortify your home with wind resistance by creating one continuous connection from the roof rafters or trusses, to the walls, floors and all the way down to the foundation.

    Metal connectors can be used to bolt floors and walls to the foundation and then connect every other major wall, floor, or roof section to the components below to provide a continuous metal connection path.

  • Roofs. Roof failures also are a common cause of major damage to homes and their contents in high winds. Hurricane force winds slam full force against the broad, flat surface of the home below gable-end roofing. If the framing -- rafters or trusses -- isn't braced, winds could blow off the roof and then rip down the walls.

    A professional inspection can indicate if your roof needs bracing. A licensed, specialized contractor should do the work -- installing 2x4's between the roof rafters or trusses at each end of the house, as well as anchoring accessible roof rafters and trusses to the wall system.

  • Walls.You may have to strengthen interior walls and that could mean removing surface coverings to get at the framing -- likely another professional job rather than a do-it-yourself task.

    Don't forget to pick up and clean up before a storm to remove objects that can become wind-borne missiles. Trees should be far enough away from your house that they can't fall on it. Anchor storage sheds and other outbuildings to a permanent foundation or with straps and ground anchors.

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