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How Named Storms Affect Your Insurance Coverage

Hurricanes are unpredictable and can pose a significant threat to your property.

Hurricane season is upon us, and forecasters are predicting an active year. Before weather reports have you glued to the TV, here are a few things to know about hurricanes, named storms and how any strong storms can affect your insurance coverage.

How hurricanes form

A storm goes through several stages before it becomes a hurricane. They include:

  • Tropical depressions occur when a group of thunderstorms come together over an ocean. These storms usually originate over tropical water, have a small amount of rotation at their center and have winds at or below 39 miles per hour.
  • Tropical storms feature faster winds (anywhere between 39 and 73 miles per hour) and a more cyclonic shape and heavy thunderstorms. Tropical storms may be less powerful than hurricanes, but they can still cause an incredible amount of damage if they reach land.
  • Hurricanes are among the strongest and most devastating storms on earth. They’re divided into five categories, with Category One hurricane winds starting at 74 miles per hour and Category Five hurricane winds reaching a whopping 157 miles or more per hour.

A storm is called a hurricane when it forms over the Atlantic and the eastern and central Pacific Oceans; a cyclone when it forms over the southern Pacific and Indian Oceans; and a typhoon when it forms over the western Pacific Ocean.

Why hurricanes are named

Names are given to tropical storms and hurricanes to give people a quick reference point and to reduce confusion.

“Unlike other storms, hurricanes can be around for weeks,” says Dennis Feltgen, a public affairs specialist and meteorologist for the National Hurricane Center. “We’ve also had cases where up to five named storms formed at the same time. For these reasons, we name hurricanes and not other types of storms.”

Some early naming conventions included naming hurricanes after the saint’s day on which they fell and the phonetic alphabet. It wasn’t until 1953 that the National Weather Service (NWS) began naming hurricanes after simple, easy-to-remember women’s names. (Men’s names were later added in 1978.)

Today, the NWS maintains six lists of names that rotate every six years. The only exceptions are the 77 names of the most damaging hurricanes the World Meteorological Organization retired out of respect to victims and survivors.

Last year, The Weather Channel (TWC)—a private cable and satellite television network that’s completely separate from the NWS—announced that it would start naming winter storms. When asked why, they cited many of the same reasons behind naming hurricanes—namely, an easier and more effective way to raise awareness and communicate updates about a storm.

The decision ended up generating a major backlash. Critics accused TWC of sensationalizing the weather and overstepping the authority of the NWS. They also criticized TWC’s unusual list of storm names that included Q, Ukko and Xerxes. (The NWS does not recognize these names.)

Today, a Facebook page opposing the decision has more than 1,000 supporters.

Deductible drama around named storms

Another reason people opposed naming winter storms had to do with named-storm deductible clauses in insurance policies. These clauses stipulate that an insurer can charge a higher deductible than normal once a weather event becomes a named storm.

Though this fear proved groundless with respect to winter storms, it still applies to hurricane and wind damage coverage. Many named-storm deductible clauses work by requiring a deductible that’s a certain percentage of a home’s value—anywhere from one to 10 percent—instead of a fixed dollar amount. That means instead of paying a $500 or $1,000 deductible, a house that’s insured for the U.S. average of $161,100 would shell out $16,100 if their named-storm deductible was 10 percent.

Luckily for most Customers in Superstorm Sandy’s path, the National Hurricane Center declared Sandy a post-tropical storm just before it made landfall. This meant the named-storm deductible couldn’t be triggered, saving many policyholders big bucks.

The ERIE difference

Unlike many carriers, ERIE does not have a named-storm deductible clause. Instead, you’re only charged your regular deductible if your home is affected by a named storm or a peril deductible of your choosing.

Peril deductibles are a new option from ERIE that let you choose different deductibles for different perils. They’re based on two things: how much premium savings you want and how much risk you’re willing to retain. These deductibles are actual dollar amounts instead of percentages—a good thing since percentages are more likely to lead to sticker shock when a deductible comes due after a major weather event.

“We’re giving Customers a new option and a new way to manage premiums with peril deductibles,” says Joe Vahey, vice president and product manager, Personal Lines. “Customers can choose a dollar amount deductible from $250 to $10,000 for weather events NWS formally names. This includes hurricanes, tropical storms and tropical depressions.”

You can also choose deductibles for fire and lightning, hail, theft and vandalism, water and wind.

Not interested in changing your deductible? No worries because you still have the option of keeping your original deductible.

“Your ERIE Agent can advise you about which deductibles are the best fit for you and show you how different deductibles impact your premium,” says Vahey.

ERIE will start rolling out this new option in September 2013. By April 2014, all ERIE Customers will be able to choose their own deductibles for these perils.

Watch a video of ERIE’s response to the April 27, 2011, Tennessee tornado.

By: Amanda Prischak | August 17,2013

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