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Storms

A hurricane is approaching. Are you ready or not?

Every year various research institutes and the NOAA release their predictions for the hurricane season. We know that even a single storm can cause devastating losses, as seen in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew struck Florida, causing an overall economic loss of US$ 87bn in today’s values. With Hurricane Florence, the first major storm of the 2018 season churning through the North Atlantic pointing at the east coast of the United States, there is no better time to prepare.

So, why are hurricanes such a huge menace? With winds blasting at 74 mph or higher, they form undetected over warm ocean waters and strike on land in an instant, pushing walls of ocean water ashore.
 
Homeowners may think hurricanes do not affect them because they do not live in coastal areas, but hurricane-related storms can reach far inland. For example, a storm that impacts the Gulf coast can continue northward to the mid-west or northeast states. Take Hurricane Ike in 2008, which caused significant damage in Ohio after making landfall on the TX/LA state line. As hurricanes move inland, they can spawn tornadic activity and flooding. So, you should not let your guard down just because you may not reside in a coastal state. Continue to monitor weather reports and take the necessary precautions to protect your family and property.
 
Knowing a hurricane’s structure is important. The eye is the “hole” at the center of the storm. In the eye, winds are light and skies are partly cloudy, or even clear. Contrary to how the phrase “eye of the storm” might sound, it’s typically pretty calm in this area. The eyewall is a ring of thunderstorms swirling around the eye, where winds are strongest and rain is heaviest. It can be the most destructive area of a hurricane. Finally, the rain bands are spiral bands of clouds, rain and thunderstorms that extend out from a hurricane’s eyewall and can stretch for hundreds of miles, sometimes containing tornadoes. And if that analysis doesn’t make the gravity of these storms real, just last year, in 2017, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria reminded us of Mother Nature’s destructive force and the need for proper storm planning.
 
The alphabetical naming of storms alone indicates how active a hurricane season is. Since more than one hurricane may exist at the same time, names make it easier to keep track of and talk about these storms. They escalate very quickly too, starting as a tropical disturbance and growing into a tropical depression (an area of rotating thunderstorms with winds of 38 mph or less). Then, a tropical depression becomes a tropical storm once its winds reach 39 mph. And a tropical storm becomes a hurricane if its winds reach 74 mph. 

What are the damage risks?

Let’s be honest, hurricanes are no joke. We saw the severity of Hurricane Sandy through every news channel, including social media. It was the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. Inflicting nearly US$ 70bn in damage according to Munich Re’s NatCatSERVICE database, it was the third-costliest hurricane on record in the United States. It has only been surpassed by hurricanes Katrina in 2005 and Harvey in 2017. Sandy was a Category 3 storm, with its peak intensity occurring when it made landfall in Cuba. While it was a Category 2 hurricane off the coast of the northeastern United States, Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states, including the entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine and west across the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin, with particularly severe damage in New Jersey and New York. When its storm surge hit New York City on October 29, it flooded streets, tunnels and subway lines and cut power in and around the city. Damage in the United States alone amounted to US$ 65bn .

Culprits that cause the most damage:

  • Water pushed ashore by storm surges causes the most damage of any of the hurricane hazards.
  • Winds topping 200 mph also leave a path of destruction to buildings.
  • Even lower-category storms can cause dangerous flooding.
  • Inland flooding can cause damages to homes and businesses that are far away from the coast.
  • Tornadoes commonly form quickly once a storm hits the shore.
  • Rip currents and rough seas are a huge issue both before and after hurricanes.

What tips can prepare you for these severe events?

  • Knowing where to go and what to take when a hurricane warning is issued is key. Make sure you have an evacuation plan and plenty of hurricane supplies. Do not wait for the flood waters to rise to evacuate. By that time, emergency assistance may not be available.
  • Stay tuned to the local weather news. Laptop computers and mobile devices should be completely charged with the ability to recharge if away from home. 

Hurricane supplies:

  • Pack a week’s worth of food and water: canned food, several gallons of safe drinking water, and don’t forget a can opener.
  • Ensure that you have a month’s worth of medication and first aid supplies.
  • Have extra batteries, a flashlight, radios, and a hand crank charger for your phone.
  • Fill up on a full tank of gas and get a few extra plastic gas cans for good measure because the pumps may be closed or empty.
  • Have cash on hand in case ATMs flood or power goes out.
  • Pack a week’s worth of pet food.
  • If you do not need to evacuate, having a whole house generator is smart in the event of widespread power outages that can sometimes last several days. Unless your generator is equipped for natural gas, make sure to stockpile enough fuel to operate the generator for 3 to 5 days.

What can insurers like American Modern do for their customers before storms hit?

First of all, make sure your clients’ insurance policies are up to date and provide the level of coverage necessary for a major event. Secondly, they can protect their homes by employing wind-fortified construction techniques or retrofitting their homes with wind-resistant features such as hurricane strapping, wind-resistant windows and doors, window and door shutters, and emergency generators. Regarding flooding, first make sure your home is not situated in a flood-prone area. Most flooding occurs outside of FEMA-designated flood zones. If the home is in a flood-prone area, be prepared with sandbags, and blocks that can be used to elevate floor-level furnishings.
 
Flooding is the leading cause of damage from hurricanes and severe tropical storms, so informing your clients about a hurricane’s most serious damage risks is your number one obligation.
 
It is important to make sure you’re not only familiar with and prepared for the risks and damages associated with hurricanes, but also appropriately insured against the effects of these disastrous storms. After last year’s devastating hurricane season, courtesy of the storms Harvey, Irma, and Maria, we are hoping for quieter storms in the tropics this year. But if it gets boisterous, American Modern customers will have the plans in place to weather any storm.
 
We can’t prevent hurricanes. But we can make sure we are prepared and there to service the needs of our shared customers in the unfortunate event that they have to file a claim. It’s what we do.

Further Information
Munich Re Experts
Melanie Winstead
Vice President – National Accounts, American Modern
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