What Storm Damage Does Your Home Insurance Cover?

March 24, 2010; 2:37 PM
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Hurricane Katrina cost an estimated $81.2 billion in damage. Image courtesy of the City of Huntington Beach, Calif.

With a harsh winter behind us and predicted stronger hurricane season looming not-so-distantly in the future, homeowners should keep in mind what their insurance policies do and do not cover.

Some AccuWeather.com meteorologists think the March 6 snow event was so severe that it should have been named, even though it was not a tropical storm.

"A named storm is official; it brings more attention to it," said AccuWeather.com Senior Vice President and Director of Forensics Dr. Joe Sobel. "Despite all the hype, many people never thought the storm was going to be that bad."

There is current debate on whether or not all severe storms should be named for safety's sake, and the criteria that would dictate when to name one.

Europe is not affected by tropical storms, but the Free University of Berlin assigns names to high and low pressure systems, including windstorms. European windstorm Xynthia severely affected the continent in late February, causing billions in damage and killing several dozen people.

A crucial element of any storm-related insurance coverage is how the insurer defines the storm in question. A "named storm" could refer to any storm the National Weather Service decides to label with a distinct name. Since only hurricanes and tropical storms are named by the NWS, many policies refer to "named storms" as hurricanes or tropical storms only.

If the NWS ever decides to follow Europe's system of naming non-tropical storms, insurance policies may change accordingly.

However, some policies refer to a named storm as more than just a tropical storm. For instance, marine insurance provider Aqua Insurance defines a named storm as "a storm, cyclone, typhoon, atmospheric disturbance, depression or other weather phenomena designated by the US National Weather Service and/or the US National Hurricane Center where a number or name has been applied." Therefore, a named storm with this provider could be any storm with a name.

As all insurance policies are not the same, storm coverage depends on what policy you have. Some policies cover for hurricane-related damage, while others require you to purchase additional coverage.

Additionally, many homeowners' insurance policies do not cover damage caused by flooding or storm surge, which is one of the primary byproducts of a tropical storm. Separate flood insurance usually needs to be purchased in addition to existing homeowners' insurance.

Some policies also can include hurricane deductibles, which is usually a different rate than a typical deductible and will cover damage incurred by the tropical storm.

Most states that are prone to hurricane damage require property insurance policies to include coverage for hurricane-induced wind damage or for their policy to include a hurricane deductible.

Some states, such as Florida, allow for discounts on insurance premiums if homeowners install wind-resistant features to their property.

Since the terminology and phrasing are so important in determining whether or not storm damage is covered, AccuWeather.com's forensic meteorologists strongly advice home and boat owners to carefully read and understand their policies.

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