Storm Surges: What You Need to Know

Last year, hurricanes pummeled both the East Coast and Gulf Coast, causing major damage to cities all over the Southeast United States. For the first time ever recorded, three Category 4 hurricanes – Harvey, Irma and Maria – made landfall in the United States, making September of 2017 the most active month on record for Atlantic hurricanes. The 2017 hurricane season also featured the highest number of major hurricanes in one season since 2005 and was, beyond question, the costliest season on record, amounting to approximately $292.23 billion in preliminary damages.

Many states require homeowners to possess hurricane insurance, but the required coverage doesn’t always protect them from all potential damages related to a storm. Hurricane insurance – sometimes known as a Windstorm policy – typically covers damage related only to strong gusts of winds and light rain or hail. With this type of policy, homeowners can claim damages such as shingles blown off during a storm, fallen trees or branches, shattered windows and rain that is entering the home as a result of broken windows or a damaged roof. However, damage from an often overlooked product of hurricanes, the storm surge, would not be covered under the general or windstorm policy.

What is a Storm Surge?

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) defines a storm surge as “an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm, over and above the predicted astronomical tides.” A storm surge is sometimes confused with a storm tide, which is when water levels rise due to a combination of storm surge and the natural tide pattern. The resulting rise in water levels can cause massive flooding in coastal areas with storm tides reaching up to 20 feet or more in extreme cases. In either situation, the results can be catastrophic for coastal buildings, vehicles, boats and anything else in the path of the water. The NHC also notes that much of the United States’ densely populated Atlantic and Gulf Coast coastlines lie less than 10 feet above the average sea level, adding to the likeliness of storm surge related damages during a major storm.

Even for homeowners that aren’t directly adjacent to the ocean, a storm surge can cause costly damages. Just a few inches of flooding in a home can cause extensive destruction. Any appliances, furniture or personal that touch the ground would need to replaced, along with the bottom portion of the walls, the flooring and parts of the electrical system. According to FEMA’s “The Big Cost of Flooding” report, just one inch of flooding can cause nearly $27,000 in damages to an average home.

How to Prepare for a Storm Surge

While there are preparations that homeowners can take to attempt to lessen the effects of a storm surge hitting, there’s no way to completely storm surge-proof a home. It’s important to obtain flood insurance to supplement the coverage from a general homeowners’ policy and a windstorm policy. The Insurance Information Institute reports that only 12 percent of U.S. homeowners have flood insurance, even though data provided by FEMA suggests that all 50 states have experienced flooding in the past five years.

Flood insurance is readily available through the self-supporting National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which allows homeowners in flood-prone areas to purchase flood insurance through private insurance backed by the federal government. Once a homeowner has purchased an NFIP policy, they may also be able to obtain an additional flood policy that has higher coverage amounts, if needed.

With proper flood insurance, homeowners can enjoy all the benefits of living in a beautiful coastal community, while also having the peace of mind that when a hurricane hits, they will have help recovering from the damages.

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