Most expensive winter storms

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The 2020 winter storm season is fast approaching, and it looks like it might produce more storms than usual. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this year has already cost over $16 billion in weather and climate disasters, with months of winter storms ahead. From 1980 to the present, the United States has recorded at least $1.825 trillion in damages from weather and climate disasters, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

Understanding what the winter season has in store and securing the right insurance is one of the best ways to protect homes and property.

The damage caused to homes by winter storms

The four main types of winter storms, which include blizzards, ice storms, lake effect storms and snow squalls, are characterized by snow, wind and cold. Although rare, they are often large and severe enough to do extensive damage.

According to weather.com, ten storms have caused $2 billion or more each in damages in the last thirty years. According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, there is a variety of damage these storms can cause.

  • Freezing rain: can damage homes in several ways. As water turns to ice, it expands, which can widen cracks on the exterior of homes and expose interior parts of the structure to the elements. If the ice produced by freezing rain accumulates quickly enough, it can also lead to partial or full roof collapse.
  • Hail: can break glass, dent metal and destroy roofs. Small, slow-moving hail typically causes less damage, but large hail driven by strong wind can cause a lot of destruction.
  • Strong wind: can shred shingles and sidings and leave a building exposed to the elements. It can also bring down tree limbs and powerlines, potentially damaging anything in the way.
  • Frozen pipes: can burst and lead to water damage. Both the likelihood of a pipe freezing and the severity of its damage depends on where the pipe is. The better insulated a pipe is and the more protected it is by indoor heating, the less likely it is to freeze.
  • Ice accumulation: can lead to an increased risk of frozen pipes, reduce the integrity of structures and lead to falling limbs and power lines.
  • Falling trees and limbs: can land on a home, causing significant damage to the roof, siding and underlying structure.

The worst winter storms in U.S. history

The National Weather Service (NWS) ranks winter storm severity one a scale of one to five, with one being notable and five being extreme. The Insurance Information Institute (iii) compiled data on the 15 most expensive winter storms between 1993 and 2019, with costs ranging from $1 billion to $5 billion in damages (overall costs, not just insured losses):

The Storm of the Century

The Storm of the Century, named due to its record-breaking intensity, began on March 12, 1993 and lasted for two days. The storm managed to shatter records with its combination of snowfall, high winds and coastal flooding and impacted more than 40% of the U.S. population. There were 270 reported fatalities, and the storm caused around $5 billion in damages.

The 2019 bomb blizzard

The March winter storms of 2019 became known as the 2019 bomb blizzard after causing close to $4.7 billion in damages and six fatalities. The storm impacted Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska, breaking Colorado’s all-time pressure record.

December winter storm of 1992

The December winter storm of 1992 caused around $3 billion in damages and 19 fatalities, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It formed over Virginia on December 10 and lingered over the mid-Atlantic states for two days, setting tide and snowfall records along portions of the East coast.

February winter storms of 1994

The February winter events of 1994 caused $3 billion in damages and nine fatalities. The damages caused by snowfall, precipitation, wind, hail and ice primarily affected the Midwest and portions of the mid-Atlantic.

February storm of 2015

According to the iii, the February winter storm of 2015 led to 39 reported fatalities and an estimated $2.8 billion in damages in New England. Tropical-storm-force winds combined with extreme snowfall and dangerously low temperatures.

January storms of 2014

According to the NWS, the January winter events of 2014, characterized by extreme cold, led to two fatalities and an estimated $2.5 billion in damages. More than 20 states were directly affected, primarily along the East coast.

March storm of 2018

According to the NWS, the March winter storm of 2018 led to nine fatalities and an estimated $2.3 billion in damage, primarily targeting the mid-Atlantic and New England. The storm, a combination of a front colliding with a low-pressure system, led to extensive snowfall and flooding in the affected areas.

March storm of 2010

The March winter storm and floods of 2010 caused 11 fatalities and an estimated $1.7 billion in damages, according to the NWS. This storm predominantly affected New England. Extensive snowfall combined with 70mph+ winds and severe flooding to create a variety of hazards.

April storm of 2013

According to the NWS, the April winter storm of 2013 caused an estimated $1.5 billion in damages but no fatalities. Record snowfall, dangerous temperature drops, extensive rain and a blitz of tornadoes primarily impacted the Midwest and the Northeast.

The North American Blizzard

According to the NWS, the North American Blizzard of 2011 led to 36 fatalities and an estimated $1.3 billion in damages. The storm brought extreme snowfall, precipitation, wind and ice accumulation to New Mexico, parts of Texas and New England.

What your insurance covers during winter storms:

Knowing how damaging winter storms can be, a natural next step is to look into what is covered by insurance. According to the iii, basic homeowners insurance can help with some types of winter storm damage. Other policies and policy riders can often be purchased for more extensive coverage.

These types of damage to the home and insured property are typically covered under a basic policy:

  • Wind, snow, ice or freezing rain, including structural collapse
  • Falling tree limbs
  • Falling ice
  • Frozen pipes

In addition, temporary financial living assistance is usually available with a standard policy when the home is uninhabitable. However, it is important to note that flood damage caused by melting snow or ice is typically not covered under standard insurance. If this is a concern, it’s a good idea to look into purchasing flood insurance.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best home insurance company?

There is no one best insurance company for everyone, considering the wide variety of options and rates available for different needs. For a good start, consider reading the Bankrate guide to the Best Home Insurance Companies of 2020.

What types of insurance can help with winter storm damage?

Standard homeowners insurance generally offers coverage for some damages caused by winter storms. However, further coverage can usually be obtained through policy additions or additional policies. Damages caused by flooding will not be covered under a standard policy.

Where do severe winter storms strike most often?

Winter storms have caused damage throughout the U.S., but the Northeast sees more winter weather damage than most other areas.

What is the best starting point for learning about homeowners insurance?

Homeowners insurance can feel a bit overwhelming when you’re first learning about it. Check out Bankrate’s homeowners insurance guide and speak with a licensed insurance professional to answer any questions before purchasing a policy.