- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Hurricane Sandy threatened the East Coast late last October and the typical hurricane warnings and watches were issued. However, when Sandy struck the New Jersey coast on the evening of Oct. 29, it was no longer officially a hurricane. The storm killed 130 people, according to the National Weather Service.
Since then, changes have been made to extend warnings and watches from the National Hurricane Center even after a storm is no longer technically a hurricane.
This could end up costing homeowners in St. Mary’s County more if they sustain storm damage and their insurance company uses the expanded National Weather Service terminology to impose higher deductibles.
When Hurricane Irene hit the region starting on Aug. 27, 2011, only St. Mary’s County on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay was posted under a hurricane warning by the National Weather Service. That designation kicked in higher homeowner insurance deductibles in the policies offered by some companies. Instead of a $500 or $1,000 deductible for damages, some insurance companies said homeowners were responsible for paying between 1 to 10 percent of the insured value of a home for much higher out-of-pocket costs before insurance payments kicked in.
One homeowner on Whiskey Creek Road in Hollywood faced around $30,000 in damages not covered by insurance after Irene, Gerald Gardiner Jr., manager for the St. Mary’s County Department of Emergency Services and Technology, said.
Homeowners in neighboring Charles and Calvert counties did not face those higher deductibles because those counties were under a hurricane watch during Irene, not a warning.
Gardiner said the expansion of these storm designations by the National Weather Service does not alter the liability homeowners may face when a hurricane warning is issued. He said the state of Maryland “can’t change the insurance companies’ policies, but they can make it more noticeable” in the insurance documents.
Requiring homeowners to pay a bigger share of the tab for storm damage could be a byproduct of the expanded National Weather Service designations, but the motivation was public safety.
Officially, a hurricane has sustained winds of 74 mph or more, feeding off warm ocean water. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 each year.
A storm like Sandy, which became a post-tropical cyclone, still had the destructive effects of a hurricane as it moved north. With the change in issuing watches and warnings, the National Hurricane Center will continue to monitor and advise on such a storm, along with the regional offices of the National Weather Service, Gardiner said.
When Sandy was no longer a hurricane, the National Hurricane Center stopped issuing statements on the storm, leaving the regional weather offices to follow it, he said.
For local residents posted under a hurricane watch or warning “there will be no change” in how they should respond, Gardiner said. It still means to prepare for a storm.
A posted hurricane watch means hurricane force winds of 74 mph or stronger are expected in an area within 48 hours. A hurricane warning is posted when those winds are expected sooner. “The warning can remain in effect when dangerously high water or a combination of dangerously high water and waves continue, though winds may be less than hurricane force,” the National Weather Service announced.
A watch or warning also can be in effect for a storm that is no longer tropical.
“Hurricane season starts June 1, and it’s not too soon to start preparing, and one of the ways to prepare is to check your insurance policy,” Gardiner said. The weather right now is “nice and quiet.”
He advised insurance policy holders to review who is responsible for fallen trees on a yard or house, or neighbor’s yard and house.
“If you have questions, ask your agent. If you’re not satisfied, shop around,” he said.