The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that weather and climate disasters in the U.S. caused $1.75 trillion in damages from 1980 to 2019. In 2019 alone, the nation experienced 14 natural disasters, each causing at least $1 billion in damages.
As a homeowner, natural disasters can be financially devastating without proper coverage, but understanding which kind of insurance protection is necessary isn’t always easy.
The damage caused to homes by natural disasters
Every natural disaster comes with its own set of risks to homeowners. Some of the risks associated with natural disasters might be avoidable with the right preparations, while others will require specific insurance to protect the homeowner.
- Flooding: Flooding can cause water damage to the home and any personal possessions inside.
- Earthquakes: Earthquake tremors and shocks can cause structural and foundational damage to the home.
- Wildfire: Wildfires can cause extensive fire damage to a home, and smoke damage can also be an issue.
- Hurricane: Hurricanes cause wind damage and flooding, which can cause substantial and costly damage for homeowners.
- Tornado: Wind damage is the primary concern, but falling objects can also damage the home.
The worst natural disasters in U.S. history
The Insurance Information Institute lists the 10 costliest catastrophes in the U.S. based on property losses, excluding damages covered by the National Flood Insurance Program. Eight of the 10 catastrophes were hurricanes, and one was an earthquake. Loss amounts have been adjusted for inflation.
Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, hit in August 2005. Louisiana suffered the worst impact, but the hurricane also affected Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee. Katrina resulted in 1,833 casualties according to CNN, and the National Hurricane Center (NHC) estimates just over $170 billion in damages.
Hurricane Maria impacted the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in September 2017. Although it remains unclear exactly how many lives were lost to the storm, the BBC estimates at least 2,975 lives were lost to Maria, and the NHC recorded damages of around $94 billion.
Like Maria, Hurricane Irma also hit in September 2017. Irma affected Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The CDC attributed 129 deaths to Irma, either directly or indirectly, and the NHC estimates over $52 billion in damages.
Hurricane Harvey struck Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. in August 2017. Harvey resulted in the death of 68 people and caused $131 billion in damages.
Hurricane Sandy impacted multiple states on the Eastern seaboard in October 2012. The NHC estimates that it resulted in 147 deaths and cost around $74 billion in damages.
Hurricane Andrew hit Florida and Louisiana in August 1992. The NHC reports that 26 people died and the storm cost $50 billion in damages.
Northridge, CA Earthquake
The most expensive earthquake in U.S. history hit Northridge, California on January 17, 1994. The quake cost about $20 billion, killed 57 people and injured more than 9,000, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The Northridge Earthquake resulted in $19,952 million in damages.
In September 2008, Hurricane Ike struck Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Reports differ on the total death toll from Ike, but the NHC estimates 103 deaths and over $36 billion in damages.
Hurricane Michael, the most recent disaster on the list, hit the Southeast and parts of the Eastern seaboard in October 2018. The NHC attributes at least 16 deaths to the storm and $25 billion in damages.
What your insurance covers during natural disasters:
According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), standard homeowners insurance policies typically cover all or some portion of the home’s structure, personal belongings, liability and additional living expenses.
While a standard policy usually covers at least some of the potential damage to a home from a natural disaster, be aware that certain types of disasters may be excluded. It’s a good idea to check with your insurance carrier to see what your policy covers or speak with a licensed insurance professional to determine what coverage is needed.
Some examples of the damage the natural disasters could cause a home include:
- Flooding: Although water damage from plumbing issues is generally covered by standard home insurance, flooding is not. Flood coverage requires a separate policy from the National Flood Insurance Program or a private insurance carrier. Keep in mind that most flood policies have a waiting period and will not immediately take effect–it’s best not to wait until a storm is coming to purchase this kind of insurance.
- Earthquake: Damage caused by shocks or tremors from earthquakes are generally excluded from home insurance policies. If you want earthquake coverage, you’ll need to purchase specialized insurance offered by most major carriers.
- Wildfire: Standard home insurance policies usually cover damage from wildfires. However, people who live in an area that’s prone to wildfires will likely need to purchase additional coverage from their carrier.
- Hurricane: Wind damage and flooding are the two main risks to a home from a hurricane. Flood coverage is excluded from home insurance, but protection from wind damage may be covered unless it’s a coastal region. Check your policy or speak with a licensed insurance professional to see what’s covered.
- Tornado: The main danger posed by tornadoes is wind damage, a covered peril in most home insurance policies. Some coastal insurers may exclude wind damage from policies. If the tornado causes a tree to fall on your home, home insurance should cover the damages.
Frequently asked questions
What is the best home insurance company?
The best home insurance company depends on the needs of the homeowner. To find an affordable home insurance policy that will fit your needs, we recommend gathering quotes from a few different insurers and comparing them.
Where can I find flood insurance?
Flood coverage is generally excluded from standard home insurance policies but can be purchased from the National Flood Insurance Program or from a private insurance carrier.
How can I tell which perils are covered in my home insurance policy?
Not all home insurance policies provide protection for all the perils a homeowner might face. To determine which perils are covered, check out the documents that came with your home insurance policy or speak with a licensed insurance professional.