Do seasonal hurricane forecasts matter? Purpose is preparedness

The pre-hurricane season forecast was released today, and it “suggests” the 2015 hurricane season will be well-below average. I used the word “suggests” because the researchers themselves say this forecast is about probability; it cannot be an exact prediction because atmospheric conditions change like (um) the weather. And, armed with information about what is likely, most people will do……nothing. Too bad.

Using six-decades of historical data and current weather characteristics, the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Team forecasts what is likely during the six-month hurricane season that starts June 1. The purpose of the forecast is to prompt preparedness. Unfortunately, many people are prompted only when a hurricane is imminent. Panic and preparedness jell like oil and water. And, a powerful hurricane can happen in a so-called below-normal year, as Hurricane Andrew proved in 1992.named-hurricane-fran

Last week, I attended the National Hurricane Conference in Austin, Texas. Attendance was down, and that may be an unfortunate indication of the level of preparedness as well.
As one of the many volunteer organizers for the conference, the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) hosted a session titled: “Seasonal Forecasts: Are They Echoes in the Wind?” The answer to that question seems to be yes. Or, that people are so confused by them that they can’t figure out what to do with the information.

The I.I.I. conducted a nationwide poll to find out how, and if, people in coastal areas reacted to the forecasts. Half of the respondents say the forecasts have no bearing on their decisions to make preparations to protect their homes. That would be a fine response if it meant people prepared no matter what the prediction. But we all know that’s not how most people operate. In fact, our survey asked respondents if they would undertake more or fewer preparations if fewer storms were predicted. About 43 percent said they would make more preparations in a mild hurricane season. What?! Maybe they didn’t understand the question?

Seasonal forecasts are intended to be informational.  They are issued because people are curious – and that curiosity should translate into action. But it doesn’t. Our panelists had differing views on the subject, yet all agreed that no matter what the seasonal forecast, people need to prepare for hurricanes EVERY year. That’s far better than wishing they had.

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Spring into home maintenance

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is an adage that is all wrong for home maintenance. By the time something breaks, you could be in hot water — or  without hot water if it happens to be your water heater that breaks.


Waiting until damage to property is so severe that you can no longer ignore it means things only get worse, and it means repairs can only get more expensive. Your home insurance does not cover damage due to lack of maintenance. Your policy covers a number of disasters, but failing to take care of maintenance issues is not covered.

For example, mold issues due to leaking plumbing or neglecting to take necessary steps to eliminate a termite infestation may not be covered by your policy. Since it is spring cleaning season, use this checklist to identify and target areas in need of maintenance.

  • Clean out gutters. Clear debris and make sure the downspouts will drain properly. Also ensure that water flows away from the foundation.
  • Examine your roof shingles. If you see any that are loose or cracked, get them replaced. Check flashing around vents, chimneys and skylights, too. It’s wise to have your roofer do this type of routine inspection, for safety’s sake and also to prevent small problems from being big ones when rainy season comes.
  • Check concrete foundations for cracks or signs of movement. Power wash concrete surfaces and fill any cracks with caulk. Application of a concrete sealer is a good idea as well.
  • Inspect exterior wood. If your home has wood trim around windows and doors, tap a screw driver around it to be sure there is no rot.
  • Schedule an annual check of your air conditioning unit with a heating/cooling contractor. An annual service call will make the unit run more efficiently. Inside, give air filters a cleaning regularly, usually once a month.

There are more maintenance tips available here. Don’t wait until something breaks. Get ahead of it this spring so you can spend more time enjoying the season.

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Cold weather haters: Unite against freezing pipes!

We don’t do “cold” very well in Florida. It’s an unfamiliar occurrence, for which we are grateful. However, cold temps are predicted for many parts of the state in the coming days, and you’ll want to heat up your knowledge on surviving the chill.

It takes prolonged cool weather to freeze pipes, and it usually doesn’t happen until the temperature drops well below freezing, like around 20 degrees. Yet, a most important tip: Keep indoor temperatures to at least 65 degrees. Going below that is not healthy for the pipes inside your walls.192d-defrosting-frozen-pipe-replacement

Southern homes are often not constructed with freezing weather in mind. That means water pipes may be vulnerable, especially if the pipes are in unheated areas such as an attic. If you’ve got pipes in the attic, get them insulated with foam sleeves. It’s an inexpensive, preventive measure. There are many other tip on preventing damage from freezing from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.

Another helpful hint: If it’s getting very cold wherever you live, disconnect the garden hose and insulate exterior faucets and pipes around the pool. The big chill will be over before you know it!

Posted in Cold Weather, Homeowners+Renters, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety | Leave a comment

Coverage for rings and other bling

Somewhere in the parking lot of the Albertson’s on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa was the small, dazzling red ruby that had gone missing from my ring. At least, I think that’s where it landed. I searched all over and came up empty handed, in more ways than one. Both the stone and setting had been knocked off, probably while I was juggling groceries, a broken tailgate on the station wagon and two young children. (This was a long time ago; those kids are adults and the grocery store is gone, so don’t go a-lookin’.)

The ruby was precious to me, yet not of a high dollar value. If I had filed an insurance claim, the value of the stone would have been less than the deductible on my policy. Chalk it up to an(other) life lesson. Valentine Day Gift 2

If you are getting or giving valuable jewelry this Valentine’s Day, check out what coverage is provided in your homeowners or renters insurance policy. Most policies provide coverage, but there are limits in the standard policy — and the coverage is insufficient for high-end gems or expensive watches. For these, you should either get an endorsement to your policy or purchase additional coverage that itemizes high-dollar property, which is known as “scheduling” them.

To schedule brand new baubles, all you need to do is have a receipt for the purchase. For heirlooms, you must have the item appraised. Don’t be blinded by bling. Get practical tips for protecting jewelry, art and antiques from theft, loss — and other types of mishaps. The place to start is by reading your insurance policy to see what coverage you have. The next step is to look in your jewelry box.




Posted in Homeowners+Renters, Jewelry | Leave a comment

Talking about “average” costs of insurance makes things simple, not necessarily helpful

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) issued its latest national report on property insurance costs this week, and you’ll likely be seeing news stories about how Florida homeowners pay more than double the national average for homeowners insurance.

This is not news. We Floridians already know the cost of homeowners insurance is higher here than in states like Idaho. And, we’re also well aware that we are the #1 state for natural disasters. Still — and maybe always. If you’re terrified of natural disasters, three of the cities with the lowest risk are in Ohio. (And, many of those Ohioans are wintering in Florida right now!)

A little perspective on this NAIC report:

  • First, this newly-released analysis is of data from 2012. There is a considerable lag time between when the data gets collected from all 50 states and how long it takes to wade through it, obviously. It’s questionable how valuable two-year-old data is to planning for the future.
  • Property insurance rates have started to decline, as we have been hurricane-free for nine years. Additionally, there are now more choices for those shopping for coverage as insurance companies are taking on new business.
  • Talking about “average cost” has its limitations. Here’s what the NAIC has to say about it:Average premium is an imperfect measure of the relative “price” of insurance due to wide variations in hazards, economic conditions and real estate values from state to state. Even when comparing identical policy forms and amounts of insurance, premiums for homeowners coverage can differ dramatically across the country.

If you are interested in understanding how communicating the averages is less than helpful, check out pages 21 and 22 in the NAIC report.  Knowing the variables affecting the cost (including the volume of property insurance losses) has value because the average only tells a partial story. Variables include the type of building structure, population density, regulation and economic factors, such as inflation and interest rates.

It’s easy to make this all about costs; the real point is about the level of risk. Florida owns the top slot, no averaging necessary.

Posted in General, Homeowners+Renters, Insuring Florida, Property insurance | Leave a comment

Auto insurance reforms may be working, say regulators

In 2012, Florida lawmakers passed legislation to target the fraud and abuse that was driving up the cost of auto insurance. Today, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation released a report indicating the reforms may be starting to work.

The overall number of insurance claims related to Personal Injury Protection (PIP, also known as no-fault) are declining and so is the overall cost of each claim. Because insurance rates are based on the cost of claims, this is positive news.

Legitimate auto insurance claims from injuries are not the problem; it’s the fabricated claims and inflated medical bills associated with what was considered a PIP “benefit” tapped to enrich some at the expense of the multitudes of honest, insurance-paying drivers.

It has long been known that South Florida and the Tampa Bay metro were popular breeding grounds for the organized crime associated with staged auto accidents and phantom medical clinics that bill for procedures never actually administered. Well, you can certainly guess where the biggest drops in the frequency of PIP claims occurred.

Here is a chart to prove your guess correct:

OIR chart





Posted in Auto Insurance Fraud, No-fault Auto Insurance | Leave a comment

Foiling identity theft during the holidays — and all year through

Guess which state had the highest number of identity theft complaints last year. Yeah, it’s Florida. Our state ranks highest, based on complaints per population. And, Florida is behind only California for cyber crime.

identity theftSince the holidays seem to stimulate use of credit cards, galvanize your fraud awareness radar right alongside. Be aware of tricks of the identity theft trade, particularly:

  • Shoulder Surfing: This is when someone is watching over your shoulder in a public place as you punch in a credit card number or listening in while you call in a credit card order over the phone. Seek privacy!
  • Dumpster Diving: Thieves aren’t above digging through your trash to get check information, credit card numbers or bank statements. They also look for pre-approved credit card offers you may have received, so tear those up before tossing them.

    Maybe Santa can bring you a shredder for Christmas. Or, look for companies in your area that will shred for you. Some charge as little as $5 to $10 a box to shred sensitive documents for you.

  • Spam Mail: Criminals love the Internet. While we all want to believe this is the season where wishes come true, there is no one in Nigeria with tons of money to give you for merely sending them a few thousand dollars first.

The FBI lists common fraud schemes, and the U.S. Dept. of Justice has an identity theft quiz. Good tip: Don’t carry all your credit cards with you; take only what you need, so if your wallet is stolen, thieves have fewer options and you have fewer calls to make.

Most home and renters policies provide coverage for theft of money or credit cards. However, the amount is limited to usually about $200 in cash and $50 on each card. Some companies offer more comprehensive coverage, so find out what you have and ask about the costs and benefits of additional identity theft protection.


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Older drivers and safety: Tips to save lives and money

Last week was Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, and while it was an event that just sped past me, it offered an idea worthy of putting in park for contemplation. When you’re considering hiding the car keys from an aging relative, suggest a driving fitness evaluation from a third party.

Safety awareness week for older drivers is sponsored by the American Occupational Therapy Association, and it (naturally) suggests a therapist conduct a comprehensive assessment. That makes sense because driving is complex. Driving requires visual, cognitive and physical aptitude, and involving a professional prevents a family member from playing the bad guy.

Another option is to partake of self-evaluations of driving performance. Check on the websites of your auto insurer, too, since most have such evaluation tools and offer tips for maintaining and improving driving skills as one ages. In fact, taking a Mature Driver Course earns you a discount on auto insurance. The discount varies from insurer to insurer, and if you are already getting good rates for good driving behavior, the discount may not be much. But most everyone believes every dollar saved is a dollar earned, so go for it.

Healthier seniors and safer cars means fewer car crash injuries and fatalities, a welcome trend. Yet, older drivers still have high fatality rates, usually because frailty makes it harder to recover from injuries sustained. Keep in mind that teen drivers and those in their early 20s have a higher fatality rate than senior citizens. That, too, is an age thing.

Posted in Auto, Driving Safety, Older Drivers, Saving money on auto insurance | Leave a comment

9 years without a hurricane, yet Florida still #1 for catastrophe losses

In many ranking situations, being #1 is a good thing. Except this: After nine years without a hurricane hitting Florida, our state still ranks tops for catastrophe losses. Time has not changed that. It has, however, shrunk the margin between first and second place. Granted, this is not much consolation.

About a decade ago, Florida’s share of historical catastrophe losses was somewhere around 20 percent of all U.S. natural disasters. With this extended period of storm-free years, the state’s share has dropped to around 14 percent, but that is still the top ranking.  Picture1

When people ask why property insurance rates have not dropped in the absence of a major storm, think about this chart above. Insurance rates reflect history, and there is no escaping a history that includes nearly $67 billion dollars in losses over the past 30 years.

It is extremely positive to enjoy all these years virtually unscathed by damage from high winds and storm surge  — obviously.  The familiar saying is that history repeats itself. When it comes to powerful storms, there’s always hope that it does not. Yet, history cannot be ignored. Ideally, it should be a catalyst for taking action to build fortified structures to keep us safer, reduce the costs of disaster and help the state relinquish the No. 1 spot.

Posted in General, Homeowners+Renters, Hurricanes, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, Property insurance | Leave a comment

Hurricane Center’s new storm surge map shows what can happen

Hurricane Season 2014 chalks up another storm-free year for the history books. Nine in a row. How lucky can we get! The unspoken question: How lucky can we stay?

With that in mind, there is a new map you should look at to learn about the risk Floridians face from storm surge. Flooding is the nation’s #1 natural disaster, and it’s not just a coastal problem. The water has to go somewhere, and it often chooses inland areas.

The National Hurricane Center has just released a storm surge inundation map. At a glance, you can tell if your location is at risk. So….glance. Take a moment to hit the tabs at the top of the page to see how different hurricane categories can impact flooding. Toggling between worst case storm surge scenarios for a Category 2 hurricane and a Category 5 will get you seeing a deep shade of red. Hopefully, seeing red will propel you to action — to find out more about your evacuation zone and to mitigate against flooding.

The data used to create the map has an interesting moniker: SLOSH. It stands for Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes. It’s all about the physics of flooding, and you don’t have to understand the science. But you should know your flood risk. Do it now, please. Because we should never let our preparedness skills rust during the off season.

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