El Niño? That’s so last year. In 2016, the climate pattern to keep an eye on is La Niña.
At least, that’s the word from a number of meteorologists and other experts.
For example, Kyle Tapley, a forecaster for MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland, recently told Bloomberg a strong La Niña is likely later this year. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said basically the same thing on its website in early January.
Both of those forecasts are in line with Michelle L’Heureux’s experience with these weather phenomena. Namely, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center researcher told Insurance Journal in October “the chances of a La Niña following a big El Niño do go up.”
Considering all the havoc the latest El Niño has caused since it first developed last summer, swapping it for La Niña probably sounds appealing to a lot of people.
That is, until you hear how this La Niña—expected to be a strong one—could impact the US.
How La Niña Affects North American Weather
Usually, La Niña hits North America with weather that’s the opposite of what El Niño offers up.
As you’re probably already aware, thanks to the crazy conditions experienced between last summer and now, El Niño tends to bring:
- Wetter weather to the southern US, from California all the way to Florida
- Above-average precipitation to southeastern Alaska
- Drier-than-normal conditions to the Pacific Northwest, the northern Rockies, portions of the Midwest, central and western Alaska, and Hawaii
- Warmer temperatures to those same areas, and cooler temps to much of the south
On the other hand, here’s how La Niña years often impact our weather:
- The southern Great Plains and the Midwest can dry out in La Niña years, sometimes leading to widespread drought
- Portions of the Pacific Northwest, plus Northern California as well as the northern Midwest and Rockies, can see above-normal precipitation
- Cooler conditions blanket the western, northern, and central parts of the US, while milder ones are more likely in the South
- Southern and eastern states generally see more tropical storm and hurricane activity
La Niña’s Insurance Implications
In other words, a strong La Niña can cause more than headaches for the people it impacts.
After all, the increased precipitation in the North and West that’s often tied to this climate pattern may result in serious flooding.
That’s a problem for all kinds of reasons. One of them is it can damage your home, vehicle, and other possessions. And that, in turn, can prompt you to have to file a claim with your car insurance or homeowners insurance providers.
Actually, if flood waters damage or destroy your house and all you have is standard homeowners insurance, you’ll probably have to repair or replace it on your own dime. That’s because your typical homeowners policy only covers water damage related to burst pipes or busted heating or air-conditioning systems. (To learn more about this topic, read our “Homeowners Insurance Basics” article.)
To protect yourself from flood damage, you have to buy a separate flood insurance policy.
Protecting your car—and your bank account—from a La Niña-related storm is a lot easier. Just make sure you have comprehensive car insurance. That’s the coverage you need if you don’t want to pay for hurricane or tropical storm damage to your vehicle on your own.
La Niña’s Impact on Tropical Storms and Hurricanes
Another aspect of La Niña to watch out for if you live in certain parts of the country is the increased hurricane activity often associated with it.
In fact, if history is any indication, 2016 could be one for the record books as far as hurricanes and other “named storms” are concerned.
Why? The last time a strong El Niño transitioned to a strong La Niña, North America dealt with one of the deadliest hurricane seasons ever.
That year (1998), a whopping 14 tropical storms spun up in the Atlantic. Ten of those turned into hurricanes. And three of those ended up as major (Category 3 or higher) hurricanes.
Several of those storms made landfall in the US. One of them, Hurricane Mitch, ended up as the second deadliest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history, causing as many as 19,000 fatalities.
Hurricane Prep in the Face of La Niña
Although most homeowners policies cover some of the destruction hurricanes and tropical storms typically cause, they don’t cover all of it.
For example, this type of insurance usually covers some amount of wind damage. If a hurricane blows a bunch of shingles off your roof, your home policy probably will pick up the tab. The same is true if a tropical storm rips some of the siding off your house.
What homeowners insurance won’t cover is water damage. To protect against the kinds of water damage hurricanes or tropical storms are mostly likely to cause, you have to buy flood insurance.
If you own a vehicle and you’re worried about what a storm related to La Niña could do to it, again, be sure you have comprehensive car insurance.
Read our “Comprehensive Car Insurance Basics” write-up for more information about this form of coverage.