Damage from Hurricane Irma? How to navigate your insurance policy

Published: Monday, September 11, 2017 @ 3:16 PM

St. Thomas Nearly Destroyed By Hurricane Irma

Thousands of homeowners impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey will have to figure out how to deal with insurance claims and all the complicated work that can go along with filing a claim in order to begin rebuilding their lives and their home. 

First, what kind of homeowner’s insurance do you need?

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Some policyholders mistakenly think they need to insure their house for its resale value. You should be insuring your house for its replacement value, which is the amount it will take to rebuild the home if it is destroyed by a covered peril, like a hurricane or a tornado.

Your insurance agent will provide you with an estimate, but experts also advise paying a contractor, engineer or a trained appraiser to place the right replacement amount on a house if you do not agree with your agent or company replacement cost amount. Be aware that these expert expenses could be the responsibility of the homeowner.

In the event your home is destroyed, your policy will pay up to the limits on your policy to rebuild your home. Some insurers have what is called an inflation guard contained in the policy. This will increase the amount of insurance on your home by a small amount each year to keep up with inflation.

>> Related: Hurricane Irma: Live updates

Some insurers pay only the replacement value stated in your insurance contract, while others will provide a cushion of up to 25 percent. The replacement estimate may not take into account a surge in demand after a storm that could increase the cost of supplies and labor.

Contents coverage

Florida homeowners are allowed to waive coverage for furnishings and other contents. Some companies also allow consumers to pick the level of contents coverage. Insurers used to give consumers coverage pegged at a certain value of their structure — 50 percent was common — even if their furnishings and belongings were minimal.

A photo taken on September 7, 2017 shows the damage in Orient Bay on the French Caribbean island of St. Martin, after Hurricane Irma barreled through. France, the Netherlands and Britain rushed to provide water, emergency rations and rescue teams to territories hit by Irma, with aid efforts complicated by damage to local airports and harbors. (AFP Contributor/AFP/Getty Images)

Windstorm coverage

Florida statute 627.712 allows homeowners to exclude coverage for wind events in some cases. Most mortgage holders, however, require wind coverage.

To waive wind coverage, a homeowner must provide a letter from their lender that says it is all right with the lender if the insured drops the coverage. The savings from a policy by dropping windstorm coverage could be substantial, up to half of the total premiums paid.

Even so, use caution before dropping the coverage, because it comes with a high risk. It’s not just hurricanes that it covers, but any wind scenario. That would include a tree falling on your house if it did so as a result of a strong wind and not just a hurricane.

>> Related: NASA astronaut captures eerie images of Hurricane Irma’s destruction from space

Raising deductibles

An option that could offer substantial premium savings is raising your deductible. Your mortgage company might be able to veto such a move. Most insurers offer hurricane deductible of $500, 2 percent, 5 percent and 10 percent.

Florida Statute 627.701 allows insurers to offer deductibles beyond the 10 percent, but not all insurers offer larger deductible options. To have a deductible in excess of 10 percent, the home must be valued at less than $500,000 and the policyholder must provide to the insurer a letter, written in his or her own hand, saying what amount in deductible they are willing to pay.

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Permission must also be obtained by the mortgage company if applicable. Calculate whether you could make repairs yourself in the event of a catastrophic event. Do you have $30,000 on hand, the amount you would pay if you took a 15 percent deductible, and your house suffered $200,000 worth of damage?

>> Related: Hurricane Irma damage: What to do before, during and after a flood

You will want to check your state's current laws before the storm hits to make sure you are covered after the storm.

Why is the sun red, the sky yellow in London? 

Published: Monday, October 16, 2017 @ 5:44 PM

The Reason For The Red Sun And Yellow Skies In London

An eerie weather phenomenon across parts of the United Kingdom is turning the skies an anemic yellow color and making the sun appear blood red.

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The anomaly is not the beginning of the end of days or a sign of the apocalypse, scientists said. Instead, it’s directly related to Hurricane Ophelia, which is whipping through the region.

The storm’s tropical air dragged in dust from the Sahara Desert and air pollution from wildfires in Spain and Portugal as it moved north through the Atlantic, creating the strange spectacle, the BBC reported.

The sky in France's Brittany region also turned yellow on Monday, Oct. 16,2017 as nearby Hurricane Ophelia brought a mix of sand from the Sahara and particles from Spain and Portugal's forest fires over the region. (David Vincent/AP)

“The dust gets picked up into the air and goes high up into the atmosphere, and that dust has been dragged high up in the atmosphere above the UK,” BBC weatherman Simon King said, according to the Express.

The blood-red sun Monday morning across the region is a result of the same weather phenomenon creating the yellow skies, according to the U.K.’s  Meteorological Office or Met Office.

“The same southerly winds that have brought us the current warmth have also drawn dust from the Sahara to our latitudes and the dust scatters the blue light from the sun letting more red light through much as at sunrise or sunset,” Met officials said on the agency’s website.

>> Related: Yellowstone supervolcano could erupt much sooner than predicted, study reveals

Social media users in London chronicled the spectacle on Twitter.

Disaster declared in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastates island

Published: Thursday, September 21, 2017 @ 11:21 AM

Hurricane Maria Makes Landfall In Puerto Rico

President Donald Trump on Thursday declared a federal disaster in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria brought pounding rain and punishing winds to the island, knocking out power and causing widespread flooding and landslides.

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The declaration allows for federal resources to be used for Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts.

The island is reeling after Maria made landfall Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane. With maximum sustained winds measured at 155 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center, Maria was the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years.

People walk next to a gas station flooded and damaged by the impact of Hurricane Maria, which hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, September 20, 2017. The strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years destroyed hundreds of homes, knocked out power across the entire island and turned some streets into raging rivers in an onslaught that could plunge the U.S. territory deeper into financial crisis. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)(Carlos Giusti/AP)

"Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this," Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, told The Associated Press.

Videos posted on social media showed swift floodwaters and powerful winds brought to Puerto Rico by Maria.

Maria knocked out power to the entire island and its 3.4 million residents, officials said Wednesday.

Ricardo Ramos, CEO of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, told CNN that it could be as long as six months before power is restored.

“The system has been basically destroyed,” he said.

Maria continued to churn over the Atlantic Ocean as a major Category 3 hurricane on Thursday afternoon with maximum sustained winds measured at 115 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in an 11 a.m. advisory. Officials warned that the storm, which is expected to turn to the north early Friday, could still strengthen over the next day or two.

Florida's 10 safest cities in a hurricane

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 6:35 PM

Get Ahead of the Storm - 5 Severe Weather Hacks

There’s really no place that’s 100 percent safe in Florida when it comes to hurricanes.

Even Orlando got hit twice in 2004 by hurricanes Charley and Frances.

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And, although Florida enjoyed a more than 10-year hurricane drought after 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, Hurricane Hermine made landfall in the Florida Panhandle in 2016. 

Still, Homeinsurance.com has ranked Florida’s cities based on their evaluation of NOAA-identified storms from 1965 to October 2014, doling out scores based on the number of storm events, number of storm-related deaths, property damage and storm-related injuries.

The top 10 safest cities in Florida during a hurricane, according to the insurance study, are:

  1. Leesburg
  2. Orlando
  3. Sanford
  4. Kissimmee
  5. Palatka
  6. Lake City
  7. Naples
  8. Ocala
  9. Gainesville
  10. Fernandina Beach


The entire ranking is below.

This graphic shows an approximate representation of coastal areas under a hurricane warning (red), hurricane watch (pink), tropical storm warning (blue) and tropical storm watch (yellow). The orange circle indicates the current position of the center of the tropical cyclone. The black line, when selected, and dots show the National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecast track of the center at the times indicated.(National Hurricane Center)
Read more about the Home Insurance study here.

9 weather terms you should know when preparing for a hurricane

Published: Monday, September 18, 2017 @ 4:37 PM

What are the Differences Between Hurricane Categories?

Whenever a hurricane is poised to strike a region, there are several terms meteorologists use that might not be familiar.

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Here are common ones you should know as you keep your eye on the storm’s path: 

Feeder band

Lines or bands of low-level clouds that move (feed) into the upper region of a thunderstorm, usually from the east through south.

This term also is used in tropical meteorology to describe spiral-shaped bands of convection surrounding, and moving toward, the center of a tropical cyclone.

Squalls

When the wind speed increases to at least 16 knots and is sustained at 22 knots or more for at least one minute.

Storm surge

An abnormal rise in sea level accompanying a hurricane or other intense storm. The height is the difference between the normal level of the sea surface and the level that would have occurred in the absence of the cyclone. Storm surge is usually estimated by subtracting the normal or astronomic high tide from the observed storm tide.

>> Related: What is storm surge and why is it dangerous? 

Eye wall

An organized band or ring of clouds that surround the eye, or light-wind center, of a tropical cyclone. Eye wall and wall cloud are used synonymously.

Sustained winds

Wind speed determined by averaging observed values over a two-minute period.

Computer models

Meteorologists use computer models to figure out a storm’s path and its potential path. The models are based on typical weather patterns.

Advisory

Official information describing all tropical cyclone watches and warnings in effect along with details concerning tropical cyclone locations, intensity and movement, and precautions that should be taken.

Hurricane watch

An announcement that sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are possible. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the hurricane watch is issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds.

Hurricane warning

An announcement that sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are expected somewhere within the specified area in association with a cyclone. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the warning is issued 36 hours in advance. The warning can remain in effect when dangerously high water or high water and waves continue, even though winds may be less than hurricane force.