Category Archives: Hurricanes

Mobile claims units are on the ground in Panama City to assist insurance customers impacted by Hurricane Michael

Earlier in the week, Lynne McChristian, our I.I.I. representative based in Tallahassee, wrote about her  life in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. Today she returns with a follow-up post.

 By Lynne McChristian

Tallahassee, FL – We were six days without power; it felt longer. Two back-to-back days of record-breaking October temperatures peaking at 90 degrees. The generator was a godsend, even if it was not powering air conditioning, only the refrigerator, an oxygen concentrator for my ailing mother, and random lights. I was trying to keep only one light on at a time to minimize the number of gasoline refills required for the generator.

At dusk, however, it became too dim for mom to navigate the house, so we flipped on more lights – and that meant refilling the generator every 8-10 hours. It ran out of gas at approximately 2:30 a.m. two nights in a row. The first night, I gassed it up in the pitch darkness with a camping light resting on the hood of my car. The second night the generator sat silent, to be refilled at daylight.

I highly recommend having a portable generator ready in advance, rather than waiting (as I did) until you experience two days without power. Here are a few models that FEMA recommends.

On Monday, I drove to Panama City to connect with insurers, many of whom had been on the scene since Sunday. Fleets of insurance company mobile claims units were in multiple places in the area, including a Lowe’s parking lot where claims adjusters from Allstate, USAA and Met Life were helping people start the insurance claims process.

Insurance claim checks were being written on the spot to storm victims for preliminary damage and for additional living expenses. I tried to drive further into town to tour the most severely damaged areas, but traffic was at a crawl. Perhaps the traffic snarl was a combination of residents trying to get back to their homes, those coming to render aid – and the curious. It felt more chaotic as fire trucks and ambulances, law enforcement vehicles and Florida Highway Patrol escorts for utility trucks were splitting through traffic and edging along the shoulder of the road. It was clear the area was still in disaster response mode, not recovery.

Panama City Beach is a tourist area about 10 miles Panama City. On Monday it was a ghost town. Beach Front Road had blocks of mainly empty hotels, closed shops, shuttered amusements, and an occasional restaurant serving meals mainly on their outside patios. It was eerie. Bay County instituted a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Back in Tallahassee, 95 percent of residents had power by Tuesday. This city known for its tree-shaded canopy roads has a great deal of that canopy lying flat alongside the road, waiting for crews to haul it away. In areas hardest hit by Hurricane Michael, the road to normalcy will be a long one. Insurers are serving policyholders throughout the affected regions – to help people recover and rebuild.

Lynne McChristian, is I.I.I.’s Florida Representative, and Assistant Lecturer and Executive Director of the Center for Risk Management Education & Research at Florida State University’s College of Business.

Hurricane Michael’s trail of destruction

Our guest blogger, Lynne McChristian, is an I.I.I. representative based in Tallahassee, about 100 miles from where Hurricane Michael came to shore.

 By Lynne McChristian

After a major natural disaster, there are various levels of survivor conditions – ranging from total devastation to mild inconvenience. In comparison to what people are experiencing in Mexico Beach and the Panama City areas of Florida, my inconveniences are extremely inconsequential. I was asked for a first-person account, and here’s where things stand on a Sunday afternoon.

In my Tallahassee neighborhood, we have been without power since about 2:20 p.m. on Wednesday. This is Day 5 of powerlessness. The air conditioners are silent in the 88-degree heat, but the rumble of portable generators is a bit overbearing, especially at night. The choice is to keep the refrigerator contents cool, or sleep.

At least we have that option and a place to sleep, whereas so many do not. Immediately after the storm, about 90% of the town was without electricity. What makes Tallahassee a beautiful part of the state is the same thing that makes it vulnerable to high winds. Decades old, stately oak trees and towering pines offer shady respite one day, and following a major storm, they become something altogether different – a barrier to returning to a comfort zone.

All over town, trees are twisted up in power lines.  The utility company has a goal of restoring power to most before the weekend is over – and so we wait. On Sunday night, 30 percent of residents still do not have power, and I among them.

I am the owner of a brand-new generator. For some, the purchase is a gamble. Bet on a fast recovery or spend $700 on a bulky tool, use it once and store it forever. My purchase was a risk management decision; my mom turned 95 last week, and she lives with me. The generator gives me confidence that she will have the steady stream of oxygen from the concentrator she uses, so it was a wise purchase in my situation. Thanks, Home Depot, for restocking the generators multiple times to aid.

Streets are clear here in the state capitol, lined with mounds and mounds of tree trunks and tree limbs. Many gas stations are out of gas. It’s an inconvenience; that is all. The focus of recovery is on the countless others who would look at this town’s Hurricane Michael experience and think it barely a blip. By comparison, it is.

 

Lynne McChristian, is I.I.I.’s Florida Representative, and  Assistant Lecturer and Executive Director of the  Center for Risk Management Education & Research at Florida State University’s College of Business.

Before you sign anything, talk to your agent

is this guy legit?

Were you well-prepared for Hurricane Michael? Good. Hurricanes are extremely dangerous.

But if you’re not careful, what happens after the storm can be just as harmful as the hurricane itself.

Beware the shady contractor. It’s a terrible story: someone’s home is damaged from a hurricane. A contractor shows up at their property and offers to complete immediate emergency repairs. All the homeowner needs to do is sign some paperwork and, the contractor assures them, their insurance company will pay for the repairs – easy as that!

Wrong. Shady contractors are not your friend. If you live in Florida, then the paperwork they want you to sign is often an “assignment of benefits” (AOB), a document that gives the contractor the right to receive payouts from your insurance company directly for repairs. (You can read all about how it works – or doesn’t work, as the case may be – on the Florida state website.)

Fraud is real and rampant. In the worst-case scenario, the shady contractor makes minimal or no repairs to the person’s home at all, but they’ll file a large claim with the insurance company anyway. If the fraudster is lucky, they’ll get the insurance payout and skip town. Meanwhile, the house is still ruined, and the homeowner didn’t get help to fix it.

Your home could go unrepaired for weeks, even months. Or the shady contractor will do unnecessary repair work, like ripping apart the kitchen because of “potential mold damage.” He promises to re-install the kitchen – but in the meantime, he bills the insurance company and the insurer pays. Sometimes, the contractor won’t reinstall the kitchen, often on some pretext or other.

This has especially been a huge problem in Florida. You can read some AOB abuse horror stories on the Consumer Protection Coalition website.

There are a lot of scams out there. Not all shady contractors are using AOBs. The Florida Department of Financial Services has also issued warnings about fraudsters who offer to provide repairs for cash – and then never provide repairs.

Talk to your agent before signing anything. Never, ever sign anything before you talk to your insurance company. Especially not if a contractor is putting up red flags, like pressuring you into signing an AOB or demanding large repair deposits up front. Contrary to what the contractor might say, you do not need to sign an AOB to get your home repaired or your insurance claim processed.

Instead, call your insurer. Many insurers will dispatch approved companies to complete emergency repairs on your property. And you’ll still be in control of your insurance policy, which hopefully will make you whole again. No shady contractors needed.

Hurricane Michael: The top-10 insurers in impacted states

Hurricane Michael is nearing landfall on the Florida Gulf Coast on Wednesday October 10. The storm is bringing damaging wind gusts and flooding to Florida and Alabama, where a state of emergency has been declared, and heavy rains from the storm are expected in the Carolinas and Georgia.

Preliminary estimates from CoreLogic® show that 57,002 homes in the Florida Gulf Coast are at potential risk of storm surge damage from Hurricane Michael based on its projected Category 3 status at landfall. The total reconstruction cost value of these homes is approximately $13.4 billion. This is likely to change as the storm develops.

I.I.I.’s Hurricane Fact Files for Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas include the top 10 property insurers for each state.

Insurance consortium offers geospatial intelligence

Aircraft carrying sophisticated image sensors are flying over the Carolinas this week to gather high quality photographs of areas impacted by Hurricane Florence.

Image of damage on Emerald Isle NC. This was one of the first areas that GIC flew over earlier this week.

Within 24 hours of capture, the images will be published online to provide State Emergency Operation Centers with high-resolution representations of disaster areas. The images will be 10 to 15 times better than satellite imagery.

The images are captured by the Geospatial Intelligence Center (GIC), a first-of-its-kind consortium  formed by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), former founders of Microsoft Bing Maps (now Vexcel Imaging), and several insurers.

GIC’s response efforts proved critical in 2017, when it provided unprecedented access to post-disaster aerials over Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands – covering larger areas than any other response to date.

Hurricane Dos and Don’ts

If you live in the projected path of Hurricane Florence, you should be prepping your home and finalizing your emergency and evacuation plans.  

Heavy rain and wind storm at a beach front condo property.

Here are some Dos and Don’ts to consider for prepping and riding out the storm.  

Don’t: 

  • Don’t go outside during the storm. This is a no-brainer. Even a category 1 hurricane can reach sustained winds of 74 mph. Category 5 winds are over 156 mph. Wind speeds like this can turn even small debris into deadly missiles. And don’t be fooled by the eye of the storm – there will be a period of calm before the hurricane force winds return from the opposite direction.
  • Don’t grill indoors. If your power goes out, don’t be tempted to throw some steaks onto a grill indoors. Charcoal or gas grills can release deadly levels of carbon monoxide.
  • Don’t drink non-bottled or untreated water. Flood waters are often filled with bacteria and other contaminants – including sewage. Don’t drink tap water – and don’t drink any water exposed to flood water, including bottled water. The FDA has tips on how to make your tap water safe to drink.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. I repeat: Don’t drink alcohol during a hurricane. You never know when you will need to evacuate at a moment’s notice or deal with a life-threatening emergency. You’re going to want all your wits about you while the hurricane is raging – lives could depend on it, yours included. That’s why some jurisdictions will ban alcohol sales prior to a hurricane.  

Do: 

  • Do stock up on lots of water. The CDC recommends at least 5 gallons of water per person. You may also want to buy iodine tablets to clean drinking water.  
  • Do make sure you have more to eat than chips and salsa. Or bread, for that matter – you’re going to want to have lots of non-perishables with nutritional value, especially canned foods. A minimum 3 to 5-day supply per person is recommended.
  • Do prepare your house properly. Clear your yard of furniture or anything else that could blow away. Cover your windows and doors using storm shutters or plywood – and stay away from windows and doors during the storm, if you can. Make sure your carbon dioxide detector has enough battery life to prevent CO poisoning. (Check out a longer list for house prep here. I.I.I. also recently gave some advice on preparing your home.)
  • Do be responsible and prepare for the worst. Make sure you have emergency and evacuation plans in place before the storm hits. Communicate these plans to everyone at your house. Find out where the nearest storm shelter is. Keep track of the storm. Have flashlights and extra batteries ready. Buy a first aid kit. Ready.gov has more advice here 

These are not exhaustive lists. Make sure to check governmental information for help on prepping for a hurricane. And be safe out there. Hurricanes are not a joke. 

Hurricane Florence – property losses and insurance implications

Approximately 758,657 homes in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia with a reconstruction cost value (RCV) of approximately $170.2 billion are at potential risk of storm surge damage from Hurricane Florence, according to a Corelogic® release.

As we continue to keep a close watch on Hurricane Florence, we’ve put together a list of our content to help understand the insurance implications of storm related property losses.

Hurricane Florence – Home preparedness tips

Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall along the Southeast or Mid-Atlantic coast as a category 4 storm on September 13.

According to computer model forecasts, Florence will come ashore in Southeast North Carolina, although slight variations could alter the path of the storm that will affect areas of the nation that are far away from the location of its landfall.

A state of emergency has been declared in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia in order to mobilize resources to mitigate the effects of the storm. If you are in the path of the storm, plan your evacuation route ahead of time!

Below are just a few steps you can take to protect your home:

  • Cut weak branches and trees that could fall on your house and keep shrubbery trimmed.
  • Hurricane force winds can turn landscaping materials into missiles that can break windows and doors. Much of the property damage associated with hurricanes occurs after the windstorm, when rain enters structures through broken windows, doors, and openings in the roof.
  • If you don’t have storm shutters to protect your windows from breakage, fit plywood panels to your windows, which can be nailed to window frames when a storm approaches.
  • Make sure exterior doors are hurricane-proof and have at least three hinges and a dead bolt lock that is at least one-inch long.
  • Seal outside wall openings such as vents, outdoor electrical outlets, garden hose bibs and locations where cables or pipes go through the wall. Use a high quality urethane-based caulk to prevent water penetration.
  • If you live in a mobile home, make sure you know how to secure it against high winds and be sure to review your mobile home insurance policy.
  • If you have a boat on a trailer, know how to anchor the trailer to the ground or house—and review your boat insurance policy.
  • If you have a swimming pool, lower the water level (additional tips here.)

For more detail on what to do when a hurricane threatens click here.

Hawaii braces for Hurricane Lane

I.I.I. non-resident scholar Phil Klotzbach gives us a forecast update on Hurricane Lane which is tracking northwest to the islands of Hawaii.

 

Whether Lane makes landfall in Hawaii or not, heavy rainfall and wind threaten the islands and residents are urged to make necessary preparations.

Hawaii’s Insurance Department has issued a declaration authorizing temporary assistance of nonresident unlicensed independent adjusters due to the anticipated arrival of the hurricane.

The last hurricane to hit Hawaii was Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

 

The I.I.I. has a Hawaii Hurricane Fact File here.

Revised 2018 Hurricane Season Forecast (August 2, 2018)

By Phil Klotzbach, lead author of the Colorado State University (CSU) hurricane forecasting team, and I.I.I. non-resident scholar. 

Watch the video

Colorado State University (CSU) updated its outlook for the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season today, and they continue to call for a below-normal season with a total of 12 named storms (including Alberto, Beryl and Chris), 5 hurricanes (including Beryl and Chris) and 1 major hurricane (maximum sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or greater; Category 3-5 on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale) (Figure 1).  This prediction is similar to their early July forecast and is a considerable reduction from their earlier April and June outlooks which called for 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes and 14 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes, respectively.  Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) and Net Tropical Cyclone (NTC) activity are integrated metrics that take into account the frequency, intensity and duration of storms.

Figure 1: August 2, 2018 outlook for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season.

CSU uses a statistical model as one of its primary outlook tools.  The statistical model uses historical oceanic and atmospheric data to find predictors that worked well at forecasting prior year’s hurricane activity and has shown considerable skill based on data back to 1979 (Figure 2).  The statistical forecast for 2018 is calling for a below-average season.

Figure 2: Skill of the July statistical forecast model at predicting historical Atlantic hurricane activity since 1982.

CSU also uses an analog approach, whereby the team looks for years in the past that had conditions most similar to what they see currently and what they predict for the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season (August-October).  The forecast team currently anticipates below-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the tropical Atlantic and warm neutral to weak El Niño conditions in the eastern and central Pacific.  The average of the five analog seasons also calls for a below-average season (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Analog predictors used in the August 2, 2018 seasonal forecast.

The primary reason that the seasonal forecast remains below average is due to much cooler than normal waters in the eastern and central tropical Atlantic.  Sea surface temperatures (Figure 4) are at their coldest levels on record (since 1982) for late July when averaged over the tropical Atlantic from 10-20°N, 60-20°W.  Colder water temperatures provide less fuel for developing tropical cyclones, and they also tend to be associated with drier and more stable air, which suppresses deep thunderstorms that are the building blocks of hurricanes.  This drier and more stable air has predominated over the tropical Atlantic and the Caribbean over the past several weeks.

Figure 4: July-averaged SST anomalies in the North Atlantic.  SSTs are much cooler than normal across the entire tropical Atlantic.

CSU also believes that there is chance for a weak El Niño event developing for the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season from August-October.  El Niños tend to reduce Atlantic hurricane activity through increases in upper-level winds that tear apart hurricanes as they are trying to develop.  NOAA gives a slightly higher than 50% chance of El Niño development in the next few months (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Official NOAA forecast for El Niño over the next several months.  The black arrow highlights the August-October period, which are the peak three months of the Atlantic hurricane season historically.  Figure courtesy of International Research Institute for Climate and Society.

Coastal residents are reminded that regardless of any seasonal forecast, they need to prepare the same for every hurricane season, since it only takes one storm to make it an active season for you.  A prime example of this is 1983.  The 1983 Atlantic hurricane season had only four named storms all year, that is, we only made it to the ‘D’ storm that year.  The first hurricane of that season, Alicia, was a major hurricane that caused major damage in southeast Texas.