Weather-related insurance claims add up — but not in the Midlands

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Posted: Friday, February 28, 2014 12:00 am

You might be tired of winter, dreading the coming Arctic outbreak and the sleet-snow mix scheduled for today and the possibility of 2 to 6 inches of snow through Sunday.

But pocketbookwise, 2014 apparently has been much less damaging in Nebraska and western Iowa, and particularly in Omaha, than in some other parts of the country.

Elsewhere, five January storms triggered an estimated $1.5 billion in insurance claims tied to car accidents, collapsed buildings and other weather-related damage. That's on pace to make this one of the five most expensive winter seasons for insurance claims since at least 1980, national insurance groups say.

In Omaha, the lingering cold and occasional dusting of snow make this winter tiresome, but actual snow on the ground has been below average, and that means fewer accidents and fewer insurance claims.

On Jan. 5, for example, when some other parts of the country were struggling with snowfall, Omaha was cold — so cold that AAA had 230 calls to start balky autos. If you can't start your car, you can't get into an accident and file an insurance claim, of course.

Other days corresponding to the major storms resulted in only light snow or none at all in the Omaha area.

Omaha's closest call for a big insurance claim was on Jan. 16, when blowing snow contributed to a 40-vehicle pileup just west of Des Moines on Interstate 80.

Even counting the Omaha area's 3 to 5 inches of snow on Feb. 5, this year's snowfall is about 60 percent of normal and precipitation is 25 percent of normal, which can translate into safer driving and fewer accidents.

The Top 5 winter prediction Thursday was based on reports from Verisk Analytics and AON Benfield. The Insurance Information Institution, an industry group, said business interruption insurance and supply chain losses have added to the claims total.

The five January storms listed by AON caused significant damage in parts of the Midwest, but the full impact didn't reach western Iowa or Nebraska. The storms also caused 56 deaths, AON said. The storms, regions and estimated total losses:

Jan. 1 to 5, Midwest, Ohio River Valley, Northeast: $200 million.

Jan. 5 to 8, Great Lakes, Northeast, Southeast: $3 billion.

Jan. 11, Southeast: $50 million.

Jan. 20 to 22, central and Eastern U.S.: $100 million.

Jan. 26 to 29, Southeast, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic: Hundreds of millions of dollars.

Insurance claims generally cover less than half of total losses.

Those storms are still far short of the record. A winter storm on March 11-14, 1993, caused 270 deaths, $8.1 billion in damage and $3.2 billion in claims, adjusted for inflation, the Insurance Information Institute said.

Last year an April 7-11 winter storm caused $1.6 billion in damage, $1.2 billion of it covered by insurance.

Worldwide for 2012-13, the insurance group said, insured losses from winter storms totaled $27.8 billion out of total insured losses from natural catastrophes of $391.7 billion.

Avoiding cold-weather damage

Ice dams: Insulate and seal your attic floor to keep moisture out. Keep attic ventilated to keep the temperature below freezing. Do not install heaters, which can be fire hazards, or use chemicals to melt snow on the roof.

Pipes: Pipes in outside walls with inadequate insulation are prone to freezing, but any pipe can freeze. Insulate pipes in a crawl space or attic. Disconnect garden hoses and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets. Let cold and hot faucets drip during especially cold nights.

Potholes: Brake and then let up before hitting a pothole to reduce damage. If you hit a bad one, inspect your tires and wheels. If the vehicle pulls one way or another or has wobbly steering, you may have damage.

Source: State Farm Mutual Insurance Co.

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