Last winter, Boston lay somewhere under a mountain of snow, a record-breaking 108.6 inches, making the 2014-2015 season the all-time snowiest on record. Diagonally at the opposite end of the country, California suffered through its worst drought in history.
Yes, the weather outside is frightful, but even more to the point, it is perplexing. In 2015, Boston at Christmastime was basking in sunshine and warm temperatures, while California was enjoying the first rainstorms delivered by one of the strongest El Niño climactic changes ever recorded.
I’m bringing up the weather not because it’s everyone’s favorite topic of conversation. Mother Nature’s caprices are temperamental, posing the possibility of an uptick in property losses for homeowners. Today’s weather-related risks, as we’ve all come to learn, also are atypical and unwieldy, as Bostonians learned to their profound regret last year.
Rob Erdmann, an insurance agent who specializes in servicing high-net-worth clients in the New England region, recalled the extremely unusual winter storms that clients endured in 2014-2015. “I had numerous clients calling daily,” said Erdmann, president and CEO of Felton, Berlin & Erdmann Insurance Services Inc. “One called me on a Saturday to say there was water cascading out of the light fixture in the living room. She lived in a mansion and had an ice dam on the roof.”
An ice dam is caused when heat from inside the home melts snow on the roof, and the resulting water runs down the slope until it reaches the edge and freezes. Then when the snow further melts, the water backs up beneath the shingles and drips down the walls and creeps across ceilings. This water damage can also lead to another problem: black mold caused by retained moisture. While icicles hanging off the roof can be a pretty picture, they are also a sign that the home has an increased potential for damage due to ice damming.
“The insurers I work with offer the most comprehensive coverage for these types of scenarios, and we had six-figure claims that were fully covered,” Erdmann said. “Consequently, I received many referrals from current clients who were satisfied with their claims treatment. The referrals, on the other hand, were not satisfied with their insurer’s claims handling, and they called to express their frustration that they were with a B-rated insurer that treated them like a B-rated citizen.”
Woes of Global Climate Patterns
Some climatologists who study the effect of global climate patterns on local weather conditions believe that local weather is affected by the variations in large patterns of regional atmospheric pressure and sea surface temperatures as well as the weather patterns associated with El Niño. In addition, some areas that generally experience rainy weather may receive more of it, and those regions with dry conditions may experience more pronounced droughts.
The challenge is that these are general expectations, not specific enough to warn homeowners and businesses of what will occur weather-wise next month, much less next year.
What is certain is that change is inevitable, and Mother Nature may be more unpredictable than she has shown us in the past.
Some regions may get a break from her whims, whereas others may be in store for a full-scale “catastrophe,” a term defined by the Insurance Information Institute as meaning insured claims exceeding $25 million and affecting a certain number of policy holders and insurance companies.