Karen Kidd May 8, 2016, 10:17am


SAN ANTONIO – With weather events poised to top 2015, itself a record-breaking year in the Lone Star State, Texans need to have their insurance in order and take careful steps before and after a disaster, an industry spokesman said.

"A lot of insurance companies are reporting more claims and more damage so far this year than all of last year combined," Mark Hanna, PR manager for the Insurance Council of Texas, said during a Southeast Texas Record telephone interview. "We had a lot of severe weather and hail last year, and we've had a lot of severe weather and hail this year."

Already this year, Texas is surpassing 2015 with billions of dollars in home, property, business and vehicular damage caused by severe weather. The storm year kicked off March 17 when severe thunderstorms in and around the Dallas/Fort Worth area brought with it baseball-sized hail that caused widespread damage that included knocked out windshields. Hanna said that weather incident alone caused about $100 million in damage.

Less than a week later, March 23, hail and strong winds struck north Texas, particularly in the Plano area, caused about $700 million in damage. On April 11, large hail and damaging winds again pummeled north Texas, particularly around Plano, Wylie, Frisco and Allen, in a storm that traveled more than 100 miles from Archer City to Longview. That storm caused about $700 million in damage.

The following day, on April 12, a violent storm in San Antonio and Bexar County damaged more than 110,000 vehicles and thousands of homes, largely from large hail shaped like jagged. The damage estimate of $1.4 billion makes that weather event the costliest hailstorm in Texas history.

Within days, another slower moving weather system dumped about 20 inches of rain west and northwest of Houston, causing flooding and many travel cancellations. Meanwhile, Weather.com is warning Texans to brace for yet another round of severe thunderstorms later this week, with severe weather in parts of west and central Texas by Thursday.

"It's been a rough year, pure and simple," Hanna said.

There has been little respite for the state since last year. The highest number of tornadoes ever reported in Texas, 240, touched down in 2015, the most since record keeping began in 1950. Those tornadoes killed 17 and the violent weather caused 16 weather catastrophes last year, which in turned tripled the number of insurance claims, compared to other states.

In 2015, Texas led the nation in catastrophic losses caused by tornadoes, hailstorms and fires, with more than $3 billion in reported damage, according to figures released by the Insurance Council of Texas. That number didn't include flood damage to homes and businesses, which the Insurance Council of Texas generally does not track because flood insurance to property other than automobiles usually is handled by the National Flood Insurance Program.

Over four days in May of last year, floods caused by thunderstorms raged in Texas and Oklahoma, killing more than 30 and prompting President Obama to declare a disaster in Texas. May 2015 was the wettest month ever on record in both states.

Texas had more than triple the number of claims and almost triple the amount of dollar losses than in the next highest ranked states, according to figures provided by the Insurance Council of Texas.

"Texas is a violent weather state," Hanna said. "You really need to know when the violent weather is going to hit and be prepared for it when and if it does. People really need to be sure they have the insurance they need in place and that includes flood insurance."

With rainfall topping 20 inches in 24 hours in places, even property outside of flood plains can be hit with catastrophic water events, Hanna said.

The Insurance Council of Texas' recommendations for homeowners include maintaining a replacement residential property insurance policy or an actual cash value policy. Home owners also should check deductible, damage costs they are expected to cover before a policy kicks in, to be sure it is an amount that is right for them. For motor vehicle owners, the Insurance Council of Texas recommends carrying comprehensive insurance coverage against wind, hail, flooding, burglary, theft or vandalism.

The Insurance Council of Texas also cautions that homeowners remember it takes 30 days for a residential flood insurance policy to take effect, so timing is critical for that type of policy.

After a disaster, Hanna said the Insurance Council of Texas recommends home owners take careful notes and document all damage, including with photographs, and to remember that insurance adjusters must triage cases. Those with the most severe damage will generally receive attention first. For everyone else, calling as soon as possible to report damage will save a place in line as adjusters make their way through possibly tens of thousands of claims.

It's also good to hope for a respite, Hanna said.

"Let's hope for better weather," he said. "Let's hope that the sever weather we've had so far this year comes to an early end and that we'll have a calm, cool and pleasant summer and rest of the year."

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