June 1 marked the beginning of the six-month Atlantic hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting a very active season this year.
Hurricanes routinely damage hundreds of thousands of homes and cars. Rules prevent panic buying of insurance policies as a storm approaches, and many homeowners and drivers afterward find themselves poorly covered -- or not at all.
The NOAA forecasts there will be a 70 percent chance of 13 to 20 named storms, of which seven to 11 could form into hurricanes. It predicts that three to six of these hurricanes will become major hurricanes.
A named storm has winds of 30 mph or higher, hurricanes have winds of 74 mph or higher and major hurricanes (Category 3 to 5) have winds of 111 mph or greater.
Storm forecasters say they plan on doing a better job of explaining storm information this season, such as what a storm surge is, in plain language after finding out during last year’s Superstorm Sandy that many couldn’t follow their technical jargon.
First named storm already here
Less than a week into hurricane season, the first named storm of hurricane season 2013 has not only formed but made landfall.
Tropical storm Andrea is hitting Florida and bringing with it heavy rains, winds, and severe thunderstorms. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warns that the whole Florida Peninsula is under the threat of tornadoes as well.
Tropical storm warnings are in effect from Florida’s west coast all the way up to Virginia as the storm will leave rain-soaked Florida and move north up the East Coast. It's important to know if a warning is in effect is in your area if you’ve waited to get the right auto insurance coverage to protect your vehicle from storm damage.
What covers your car for storm damage?
State-mandated liability coverages don’t protect your vehicle in any way, so for damages related to natural events, such as a storm or hurricane, you need comprehensive coverage. Hail or wind damage, rising waters, or a tree falling on your car would all normally be covered by the comprehensive portion of a car insurance policy. (See "Is your car parked in disaster's path?")
What isn’t covered by comprehensive is if you are driving during the storm and crash. For instance, if you hydroplane in a torrential downpour and hit a tree, you’d need collision coverage to cover it.
If you don’t have physical damage coverages in place for your vehicle before a storm or hurricane warning is issued for your area, it may be too late to buy the coverage until after the storm passes by.
Buy coverage before it’s too late
Most auto insurance companies put temporary restrictions in place when a storm or hurricane warning (or some with just a storm watch) goes out by the NHC. (See “A hurricane is coming; what will cover my car” for what the difference is between a storm warning and storm watch)
The restrictions vary, but usually include not accepting applications for new policies and not accepting requests for the addition of physical damage coverages, increased limits or lower deductibles on existing auto policies. These limitations generally stay in place until 48 to 72 hours (varies by insurer) after the warning ends.
The best way to avoid being turned down for physical coverages that will protect a car from storm damage is to prepare in advance and add them to your auto insurance policy before a storm or hurricane threatens your area.