Satellite photo of el niñoEl Nino tends to get the blame for many catastrophic hurricanes like Patricia, severe blizzards, and other major storms. But it also influences weather on a smaller, more day to day, scale as well.

A stronger than usual El Nino could extend certain weather patterns. NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is predicting a 95% chance that the current system will last through the 2015-2016 winter and gradually taper off through the following spring.

El Nino, and its counterpart La Nina, are weather patterns found in the Equatorial Pacific. El Nino systems are characterized by warmer than usual water temperatures in this area, while La Nina systems are characterized by cooler than usual water temperatures in the area. El Nino frequently gets both credit and blame for causing heavy rainfall and destructive flooding in the southern United States and oppressive drought in the West Pacific.

Insurance agents in many areas are taking advantage of El Nino and talking with clients and prospects about insurance coverage for their property, but El Nino isn’t the only time agents and brokers should have these conversations. As we get into the coldest part of winter, agents need to talk with their clients about inspecting roofs and cleaning out gutters before spring rains begin.

According to Jim Gustin, Travelers Insurance Risk Control Department’s property technical director sees the current predictions of El Nino lasting until spring as providing an excellent opportunity for agents to encourage clients to ensure they are prepared for potentially heavy rains and to ensure they have sufficient coverage in place. If you aren’t sure whether you are covered in the event of water damage from flooding, you should call your insurance agent and find out.

Evaluating Flood Risk

You may also want to ask your agent to review your deductibles and coverage, especially if you live near a body of water or in a low lying area. Standard homeowners insurance typically does not cover damage from floods, so you’ll likely need to purchase flood insurance, if you haven’t already. You’ll also need to know how much coverage you have for the contents of your home under your flood policy.

One of the most important factors in emergency planning for any property is evaluating flood risk. Once you know what your flood risk is, then you can go about determining what you have to do to mitigate that risk as much as possible. Ask yourself:

  • Will your sump pump keep running if you lose power?
  • Do you have an emergency generator to power your sump pump to protect your property in the event of a power outage?
  • Are there back pump preventers on sewer drains in your area to prevent debris from flowing back into your building?

Some parts of the country could see winter delayed, thanks to El Nino, but could also find the cold weather lasting longer. It’s not just property damage you need to be concerned about. In Northeast and mid-Atlantic areas, sleet, freezing rain, and heavy snow are normal. Shoveling snow may be part of your winter routine, but how much thought do you give to removing ice from your driveway and the sidewalk in front of your house? If someone falls, you could be liable for their injuries, especially if your town has an ordinance requiring you to keep sidewalks near your property clear of hazards. It’s always a good idea to remove ice from your driveways and sidewalks, even if you aren’t required to.

When you lease property, maintaining the property is typically the responsibility of the owner, but you should still be careful to keep sidewalks, parking lots, and other walking areas safe. You should also be alert to any signs of deterioration due to rain, flooding, ice, snow, or normal wear, so any repairs can be made before weather turns bad.

Inspect Your Roof

If there are any trees near your house, you may want to trim them and remove any dead branches so they cannot fall on the building. Be sure to trim back any branches that could break and cause damage.

You also want to inspect your roof flashing to ensure it is in good condition and secured to keep out water and to protect the roof covering from wind damage.

While you’re looking at your roof, you should be alert to maintenance issues that could increase the potential for roof damage in severe weather. Some things to look for include:

  • Bubbles
  • Missing gravel (flat roofs)
  • Shingles or tiles that are missing or damaged
  • Any deviations in your roof covering
  • Any looseness where the roof covering or flashing attaches to the building

There are different designs in roofs to prevent water accumulation, but regardless of whether you have gutters, downspouts, or roof drains, be sure they are clear of debris which can impede drainage and potentially lead to roof collapse. Check your downspouts to ensure they actually drain water away from your building and not into your basement or crawl space.

Business owners in particular should inspect roofs every month to check for dirt and debris, damage from storms, or even items left behind or damage caused by contractors who may be on the roof to service HVAC systems.

Year End Review

It’s a good idea for anyone to review their insurance policies every year to ensure the policy still meets your needs. Have you purchased any new property or valuable items, or received such items as gifts, in the past year that should be covered? If you haven’t, or if the contents of your home have changed significantly, take an inventory of all your personal property. The easiest way to do this is with a video camera. Your smartphone is probably capable of this. Be sure to inventory all closets and drawers, as well as anything you have stored in the basement, attic, or garage, and any outdoor items you own, such as patio furniture, planters, and lawn and garden equipment.

To help you with this task, many insurance companies offer inventory software, or you can probably find an app for your smartphone for this purpose. Most of these programs will store your inventory in the cloud, so you can access it from anywhere, and doesn’t have to be transferred if you trade in your phone.

Planning

Do you have an emergency plan in place? If not, you need to sit down with your family and figure out what to do in an emergency. How will you get in touch with your family members if disaster strikes when one or more of you aren’t home? Where will you meet if you get separated? Think about how you will get elderly or disabled family members, as well as small children, to safety, especially if you might have to evacuate them from an upstairs window.

Do you have a battery powered radio and enough flashlights? Are the batteries working and do you have extras? You’ll need the flashlights if the power goes out, and the radio will keep you notified of any local announcements.

Emergencies can be especially difficult for small businesses because they often do not have written emergency plans. When disaster strikes, they may not be able to recover.

Planning ahead is the key to being prepared for any emergency, for individuals, families, and businesses.

 

If you are in the San Diego area, and in need of help recovering from a Fire or Flood, call us at (619) 376-6838.

Understanding El Niño
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