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Naming ‘Nemo’: Why the blizzard’s name could cause confusion on insurance policies

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While electricity, roads and transportation remain problematic, much of the Northeast of the US was in recovery mode yesterday digging out from a deadly weekend snowstorm.

The blizzard packing hurricane-force winds hammered the northeastern US on Saturday, dumping 40 inches of snow on parts of the region. The storm cut power to more than 700,000 homes and business, shut down travel and left at least 15 people dead.

Now, as insurers brace for potentially the largest winter storm seen in several years, many of them are being forced to revise their policies thanks to The Weather Channel, which dubbed the winter storm ‘Nemo’.

The Weather Channel announced in October that it would begin naming winter storms during the 2012-2013 winter season — a first for the US where hurricanes and tropical storms are given names, but not winter storms. At the time, they said the goal of naming the storms was “to better communicate the threat and the timing of the significant impacts that accompany these events. The fact is, a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation,” the network said.

The problem is, many property insurance policies carry ‘named-storm clauses’, which can mean higher deductibles for damage caused by such a storm. In exchange, the policyholder typically pays lower premiums. But a storm named by whom, is the question. Now that the Weather Channel is naming winter storms, will future claims caused by a named winter storm be subject to those higher deductibles?

The language in many named-storm clauses specify storms “named by the National Weather Service, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of any other recognised meteorological authority”.

Whether the Weather Channel is a legally a ‘recognised meteorological authority’ is not clear, but some insurers are working to make it clearer just in case. One Bermuda insurer we spoke to told

The Royal Gazette it’s starting to see named-storm clauses that specifically say, “not named by the Weather Channel” in them.

Whatever you call the weekend blizzard, the economic impact is expected to be big with the potential for significant business interruption claims. The two to three feet of snow that fell grounded flights, brought many businesses to a halt and forced many restaurants to turn away patrons.

What’s worse is the blizzard hit at a time when many businesses are still struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy, which struck in October.

While this is no Sandy, snowstorms can have a devastating effect on the economy, stopping the flow of business, communication and supplies. Winter storms are the third-largest cause of catastrophe losses, behind only hurricanes and tornadoes, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Average annual winter storm losses have nearly doubled since the early 1980s. Last winter was kind to insurers though with two storms causing $38 million in insured losses. Winter storms in 2011 cost the insurance industry $2 billion, the III says.

The only saving grace, officials say, was that this blizzard hit on a weekend when there were fewer people commuting to work and it made it easier for clean-up crews to work the streets. And, while it dumped massive amounts of snow, the storm didn’t quite live up to the infamous northeast blizzard of 1978. In that blizzard, on February 7, 1978, New Jersey, and received record snowfall and approximately 100 people died. In Boston, more than 27 inches of snow fell then. This time around, the city got 24.9 inches, making it the fifth-largest storm in the city since they started keeping records.

Nearly 140,000 homes and businesses were still without power late yesterday afternoon as forecasters were predicting even more snow.

“I don’t even want to think about it, to tell you the truth,” Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said of the forecast for another one to two inches of snow.

A new one to two inches of snow was forecast for northern Connecticut and central Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service. A freezing-rain advisory was also issued for parts of New York, Pennsylvania, northern New Jersey and southern Connecticut.

Blinding Nemo: A woman digs out her car after it was blocked in by drifting snow during a blizzard Saturday, in Portland, Maine.
A pedestrian crosses a deserted street in North Andover, Massachusetts, on Saturday after a snowstorm came through dumping more than two feet of snow on New England.

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Published February 12, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated February 11, 2013 at 8:17 pm)

Naming ‘Nemo’: Why the blizzard’s name could cause confusion on insurance policies

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