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Homeowners Insurance and Lightning: Top 5 Cities at Risk and How to Stay Safe

It's probably no surprise to learn that Florida has more lightning strikes than any other part of the country, but some cities in the Sunshine State are more vulnerable than others. Residents should be vigilant in protecting against a strike and keeping their homeowners insurance in line with their needs.

The Weather Channel recently compiled a list of cities most prone to lightning strikes using a 30-year span of thunderstorm data. All of the Top 5 cities are in Florida. Here's the list that includes the city's average annual days of storms:

1. Fort Myers (88 days)

2. Tampa (82.7 days)

3. Tallahassee (82.5 days)

4. Orlando (81.8 days)

5. West Palm Beach (76.8 days)

Florida also takes two other spots in the Top 10. Daytona Beach comes in at No. 8 with 73.4 stormy days and Miami fills the No. 9 slot with 72.3 days. Rounding out the list was No. 6 Lake Charles, Louisiana (75.8 days), No. 7 Mobile, Alabama (75.5 days) and No. 10 Baton Rouge, Louisiana (72 days).

Why is there so much lightning in Florida? The proximity to the abundant moisture from both the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean is perfect for the development of thunderstorms, which then produces lightning.

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Also, The Weather Channel cites sea breeze fronts that trigger thunderstorms each summer afternoon as a major seasonal culprit. From late fall through winter and early spring, cold fronts slice through the state which also can create thunderstorms.

Homeowners insurance and lightning

Lightning strikes are a common reason for insurance claims, so it's no wonder that seven of the top 10 states for lightning-related homeowners claims in 2015 were in the Southeast, along the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico, according to an analysis by the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm.

Homeowners often forget the dangers of lightning in these areas because strikes are so common, says Kimberly Loehr, communications director for the Lightning Protection Institute.

“People are not shocked to see a lightning storm,” she says.

But the risk is real. Insurers paid out a total of $790 million dollars in lightning-related homeowners claims in 2015. The number of lightning claims actually fell by 46.6 percent from 2011 to 2015, but the average cost per claim jumped by 55.5 percent, to $7,947. One reason for that is the rise of smart homes, which feature Internet-connected electronic systems that control lighting, ventilation, security and appliances.

“If lightning were to strike, all the systems connected go down,” Loehr says. “A lot of the electronics are very sensitive.”

If lightning strikes, it can travel through wiring, pipes and any other metal wires or bars, according to the National Weather Service. Typical surge protectors won’t work against lightning.

The National Fire Protection Institute’s standards for lightning protection systems include a risk assessment that considers the prevalence of lightning in an area, the size of a building, a building’s location (such as isolated or surrounded by similarly sized buildings), construction type, how often a building is occupied, the consequences of a strike (in terms of loss of its function and potential environmental impacts) and the value and combustibility of building contents.

How lightning protection systems work

Lightning protection systems do not attract lightning. Rather, they direct the current from any strike that does occur into the ground, preventing damage to a structure and its contents. It’s similar to how homes are grounded to protect against failures in their electrical systems, except built to handle a much higher load.

A typical lightning flash carries about 300 million volts and 30,000 amps, compared with the household current of 120 Volts and 15 amps, according to the National Weather Service.

A lightning protection system for a multi-story, 3,000-square-foot home generally costs $2,500 to $3,500, Loehr says. These systems require specialized UL-listed components and expertise, she adds. “It’s not a do-it-yourself project.”

The Lightning Protection Institute maintains a search tool for certified installers

Insurance savings with a lightning protection system

Homeowners insurance covers damage from a fire caused by lightning, and some policies also protect against damage from power surges from a lightning strike, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Of course, you’d be on the hook for your deductible, and you’d have the hassle of dealing with any damage.

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Some insurance companies provide discounts to homeowners who have lightning protection systems, according to the Lightning Protection Institute. In other cases, installing a system might be a way for a home that has experienced one or more lightning strikes to avoid termination of coverage, Loehr says.

“Insurance providers are getting more savvy about lightning protection and how it can decrease a lot of losses for their industry, so they’re recommending lighting protection more and more,” she adds. “Homeowners really have to ask to find out what’s available.”

Even if your insurer doesn’t provide a discount, you should let the company know if you’ve installed a lightning protection system so it can be included in the insured value of your home.

Otherwise, your coverage might not pay to replace the system if your home had to be rebuilt.

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