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El Nino hits home: How to weather the storm

El Nino and homeowners insurance  

As she began preparing for the holiday season, Lindsey Hart of Sacramento, Calif., did more than just purchase presents for family and friends. She also bought herself the gift of flood insurance.

Since the first indication that a powerful El Nino storm was set to hit the United State in late 2015 and early 2016, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has urged homeowners to get ready for serious storms and flooding in several states. El Nino is a weather pattern that begins with unusually warm temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and typically results in more rain and frequent and intense storms.

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Expected to mimic a similar pattern as the winter of 1997-1998, this year’s El Nino could batter California and the eastern half of the United States, with extreme weather that peaks in winter and fizzles out in late spring.

Government advice: Buy flood insurance

Hart, who works as a spokesperson for the California Department of Insurance, says her office is advising consumers to purchase flood insurance since flood damage is not covered by traditional homeowners insurance.

“A few inches of water from flooding can lead to thousands of dollars of damage,” Hart says. “I plan to sell my home within the next year, so paying $50 a month on flood insurance premiums -- the same price some people pay for a month of lattes -- is providing me with peace of mind.”

While floods may sound far-fetched, especially to homeowners in drought-stricken states such as California, this year’s potentially historic El Nino storms are expected to bring a stream of rain and flooding between December and March. The cumulative impact of extremely high rainfall is expected to impact many areas that have never before been affected by flooding.

See also: Home insurance rates by state

Areas in central and Southern California, across Texas, to Florida and up the East Coast to southern New England, will all see wetter than normal conditions, according to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Association.

4 ways homeowners can prepare

To prepare for potential flooding, experts caution homeowners to mitigate as many potential risks as possible by taking these steps:

1. Assess your risk of flooding. On the FEMA website, consumers can determine their flood risk, and also find an insurance agent in their area, by entering their location. Experts say even those in low- to moderate-risk areas, may want to consider purchasing flood insurance since it’s impossible to determine the exact areas that will experience flooding.

See also: 6 tips on how to shop for flood insurance

“The droughts in the western United States have made flooding more likely by diminishing the soil’s capacity to soak up moisture,” says Tim Reinhold, senior vice president of research and chief engineer for the Institute of Business and Home Safety (IBHS) in Tampa, Fla. “Four years of a drought in California and wildfires have impaired the land’s flooding and landslides.”

2. Consider purchasing flood insurance. Many consumers are unaware that homeowner policies typically don't cover damages that occur as the result of floods or mudslides, Hart says. Flood insurance is only available through the Federal Flood Insurance Program, and must be in force for 30 days prior to a flood in order for the policy to be effective.

Cheryl Chew, an insurance broker at Don Hood Insurance Agency in Panama City, Fla., says she has seen flooding strike in areas that weren’t considered flood zones.

“We’ve had customers who have sustained flooding after purchasing a home and being assured by their neighbors that they’ve never had flooding,” Chew says. “Flood risk danger isn’t just based on history, it’s also based on factors such as changes due to building and development, rainfall and tidal-surge data.”

3. Protect your home from flooding. Hart also recommends that homeowners take measures to protect their home from flooding such as inspecting their roof for leaks and cleaning their gutters, drains and downspouts. The public works departments for most cities provide sandbags to residents free of charge. These sandbags can be used to block doors, drains and other openings to your home.

4. Remember renters need protection, too. Although your landlord will ultimately be responsible for any flood damages to the exterior and outer walls of your home, renters are typically responsible for any possessions inside their home. Check with your insurance agent to ensure that your furnishings and other items are covered by insurance in the event of a flood.

See also: Millennials lack renters insurance and believe it costs over $1,000

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