Your Storm Watch Guide
June marks the beginning of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, and that means preparations are underway across the Gulf and Atlantic Coast states. In North Carolina, weather is already a big deal, but the threat of powerful cyclones marks a new level of danger. While we cannot predict the future, we do know that preparation is key. Use this guide to get ready before storms arrive.
Hurricanes and tropical storms, which generally bring large amounts of rain, can cause flooding in communities across North Carolina, affecting roadways, public spaces and more — including your home.
While homeowners and renters insurance policies can cover storm-related events such as a tree falling on your home, they typically do not cover flood damage.
To cover flood damage to your home, you can purchase additional flood insurance — which may be a worthwhile investment, as the North Carolina Hurricane Guide says just one inch of flooding or water damage can cost up to $25,000 in clean-up and repair costs.
But does everyone need flood insurance, or does it depend on how likely your home is to flood? If you decide you need flood insurance, how do you purchase it?
The News & Observer has answers to those questions and more, compiled using information from the N.C. Department of Insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Here’s what to know about flood insurance.
How to tell if your home is at risk of flooding
There are several online tools you can use to assess the flood risks and likelihood of your home and community.
▪ FEMA Flood Map Service Center (msc.fema.gov/portal/home) — This FEMA tool is produced in support of the National Flood Insurance Program, uses GIS imaging to show your home’s risk of flooding. Type in your address on the homepage to get started.
▪ flood.NC.gov — This North Carolina-specific resource offers flood mapping tools, plus additional information about flooding and flood insurance in North Carolina. Type in your address or allow the website to use your current location to assess your flood risk.
▪ Risk Factor (riskfactor.com) — This tool, previously called Flood Factor, assesses how likely your home is to flood within the next 30 years. You can also assess your home’s risk of being affected by wildfires. Search for your home’s address, or do a broader search by ZIP code or city, to see your flood risk.
Most flood risk assessment tools should give you a lettered flood zone for the address you enter, which corresponds to the level of flooding risk at that address.
▪ Moderate- to low-risk flood areas are designated with the letters B, C, and X on FEMA flood maps. “In these areas, the risk of being flooded is reduced, but not completely removed. One in three insurance claims come from moderate- to low-risk flood areas,” FEMA says.
▪ High-risk flood areas begin with the letters A or V on FEMA flood maps. These areas face the highest risk of flooding.
Deciding if you need to purchase flood insurance
If your home is at high risk of flooding according to FEMA mapping tools, it’s probably a good idea to purchase flood insurance — and it may even be required by your home loan lender, or for another reason.
▪ Homes and businesses in high-risk flood areas with government-backed mortgages are required to purchase flood insurance.
▪ Flood insurance is also required if you live in a high-risk flood area and have received federal disaster assistance, including grants from FEMA or low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, and wish to be considered for any federal aid for future disasters, FEMA says.
But even if you do not live in a high-risk flood area, you may still wish to purchase flood insurance to ensure you have the most protection possible in the event of a flood. Remember: Even if a hurricane or tropical storm is forecast to hit the coast of North Carolina, the storms can still have impacts on the rest of the state, including possible flooding.
“Just because your home is not in a designated flood plain, do not assume you will never incur flood damage,” the N.C. Department of Insurance warns.
Note: Both homeowners and renters can purchase flood insurance. The N.C. Department of Insurance says “renters are encouraged to protect their contents from loss by flooding with a flood insurance policy in addition to their renter’s insurance.”
How to purchase flood insurance
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) partners with more than 50 private insurance companies to sell and service flood insurance policies. NFIP also works with independent insurance agents who can write flood insurance directly with the NFIP.
▪ To locate a flood insurance provider near you, visit floodsmart.gov/flood-insurance-provider and sort by state.
Note: NFIP flood insurance is only available in communities that participate in the NFIP. The NFIP reports that 594 communities in North Carolina currently participate in the program, while 27 communities do not. You can check the list of all participating and non-participating communities in North Carolina at fema.gov/cis/NC.html.
If your community does not participate in NFIP, or you’d like to get your flood insurance elsewhere, the N.C. Department of Insurance says “there are private companies that offer flood insurance policies or endorsements for flood coverage.”
▪ You can check with your insurance company or your local insurance agent to find out which flood insurance options are available to you.
What’s covered under flood insurance?
Flood insurance from the NFIP offers two types of coverage: building coverage and contents coverage.
Building coverage protects your:
- Electrical and plumbing systems
- Furnaces and water heaters
- Refrigerators, cooking stoves and built-in appliances, such as dishwashers
- Permanently installed carpeting
- Permanently installed cabinets, paneling and bookcases
- Window blinds
- Foundation walls, anchorage systems and staircases
- Detached garages
- Fuel tanks, well water tanks and pumps, solar energy equipment
Contents coverage protects your:
- Personal belongings such as clothing, furniture, and electronic equipment
- Washer and dryer
- Portable and window air conditioners
- Microwave oven
- Carpets not included in building coverage (such as carpet installed over wood floors)
- Valuable items such as original artwork and furs, up to $2,500
Items not covered by NFIP flood insurance include:
- Temporary housing and additional living expenses incurred while the building is being repaired or is unable to be occupied
- Property outside of an insured building. For example: landscaping, wells, septic systems, decks and patios, fences, seawalls, hot tubs and swimming pools.
- Financial losses caused by business interruption
- Currency, precious metals, stock certificates and other valuable papers
- Cars and most self-propelled vehicles, including their parts
- Personal property kept in basements
Note: Flood insurance only covers losses directly caused by flooding. The NFIP defines flooding as an “excess of water on land that is normally dry, affecting two or more acres of land or two or more properties.”
For example, the NFIP says, damage caused by a sewer backup is covered if the backup is a direct result of flooding. If the sewer backup is not caused directly by flooding, the damage would not be covered.
If you have questions about what’s covered under your flood insurance policy, the NFIP recommends talking to your local insurance agent. You can also find additional information at floodsmart.gov/whats-covered.
Additional resources for flooding in North Carolina
Additional information about flooding and flood insurance can be found at:
When is hurricane season?
“Hurricane season” technically begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30. Peak hurricane season is mid-August to late October.
But hurricanes can, and do, occur outside of that window. Since 2010, at least five tropical cyclones outside of hurricane season have impacted North Carolina to some extent.
What is a hurricane?
A hurricane is a type of storm called a tropical cyclone.
▪ A tropical cyclone is a rotating low-pressure weather system that has organized thunderstorms. The storms can bring large amounts of rain, high sustained winds, dangerous storm surges, tornadoes and rip currents.
▪ Hurricanes generally form in the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, the eastern North Pacific Ocean and, less frequently, the central North Pacific Ocean.
Tropical cyclones are classified by their maximum sustained winds.
▪ Cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of 38 miles per hour (mph) or less are called tropical depressions.
▪ Cyclones with maximum sustained winds between 39 and 73 mph are called tropical storms.
▪ Storms with maximum sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are called hurricanes.
Hurricanes are further classified by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale:
▪ A category 1 hurricane has sustained winds between 74 and 95 mph. Category 1 hurricanes produce “some damage” — think damage to roofs, house siding and gutters, plus large tree branches being downed. Power outages are possible and could last several days.
▪ A category 2 hurricane has sustained winds between 96 and 110 mph. Category 2 hurricanes produce “extensive damage,” including major damage to roofs and siding, along with shallow-rooted trees being uprooted. Near-total power loss should be expected, and could last for several days up to weeks.
▪ A category 3 hurricane has sustained winds between 111 and 129 mph. Category 3 hurricanes cause “devastating damage.” Well-built homes could suffer major damage, such as the removal of roof decking and gable ends. Trees will snap and be uprooted, blocking roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.
▪ A category 4 hurricane has sustained winds between 130 and 156 mph. Category 4 hurricanes cause “catastrophic damage.” Well-built homes could lose much of their roofs and some exterior walls. Most trees will snap or be uprooted, and power poles could also fall. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months, and most of the area will become uninhabitable for the same time frame.
▪ A category 5 hurricane has sustained winds of 157 mph or higher. Category 5 hurricanes also cause “catastrophic damage.” A high percentage of homes will be destroyed. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months, and most of the area will become uninhabitable for the same time frame.
What’s the difference between a hurricane watch and warning?
Knowing the difference between storm watches and warnings can help you and your family stay safe as a storm threatens your area.
Watches mean that severe conditions haven’t occurred yet, but could in the near future.
▪ A tropical storm or hurricane watch means that tropical storm or hurricane conditions are possible within 48 hours.
If a warning is issued, it means dangerous weather is imminent.
▪ A tropical storm or hurricane warning means that tropical storm or hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours.