From Summer Storms to Winter Storms

Where has the summer gone? The 'barbecue weather' famously predicted by the Met Office didn't quite materialise for many of us – rather the summer seemed to be marked with some rather spiteful storms with everything from golf-ball sized hailstones and tornadoes to lightning strikes and deluges of biblical proportions.

And these 'weather events' as insurers like to call them, seemed to be happening almost anywhere, while recent flooding in Moryashire is a stark reminder of what the British weather can produce. And with winter fast approaching, could we be in for an even worse ride?

Our customers' experiences

"Insurers are becoming used to dealing with claims for weather damage, including flooding in places where there has been no history of flooding at all," says Chay Collins, AA Insurance Manager.

One AA customer in Suffolk claimed for a sudden flood following a short but exceptionally heavy downpour. "The sky went black and down came the rain and hail and in no time the village was flooded," she said. "Then out came the sun again and the water disappeared as if nothing had happened, but leaving in its wake thousands of pounds of damage. The next village, only a mile away, had no rain at all."

A couple in the West Midland lost several bricks off their chimney, some of which came through the roof. "It was a mini-tornado," they said. "It sounded like an express train and was gone just as quickly. It only affected half-a-dozen houses but caused an unbelievable amount of damage."

There have been some quite bizarre weather claims, too. One car insurance customer had his pride-and-joy Jaguar XJS written off in a hail storm. He told AA claims staff that the hailstones were the size of golf balls – and left his car looking like a golf ball, because it was covered in dents caused by the hailstones. He was just one of a several similar claims from customers caught in the same south coast storm.

Another driver in Lancashire was having some difficulty controlling his car in a "huge gust of wind" when something literally came through his roof. When he stopped he was amazed to see a roof slate sticking out of his roof like a shark's fin. "It hit edge-on and opened the roof like a tin-opener," he said. "I thought AA Insurance wouldn't believe me but they met the claim without question."

Make sure you have insurance cover

"It's a moot question as to whether these increasingly severe and sudden storms are a result of global warming," Collins says. "But the insurance industry is working with the Environment Agency, the Government and other agencies to work out long-term strategies to help ensure that the future consequences of environmental change can properly be dealt with.

"But recent events underline the importance of having decent buildings and contents insurance – and of course, comprehensive car insurance. There have been signs that some customers have not renewed their home insurance policies in an effort to reduce their outgoings. It's true that times are tough for many people but given the fact that extreme weather isn't just confined to coasts and flood plains, such a strategy could be a very expensive mistake."

Similarly, not renewing your car insurance, or cancelling your direct debit payments, is bound to end in tears, Collins points out, "If you don't have valid cover, you won't be on the national insurance database. And that means you are likely to be stopped by traffic police whose cars are increasingly equipped with automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) equipment. As its name suggests, this automatically scans car number plates and alerts officers if it can't find a match on the database – the police will then stop you and if you don't have cover, your car will be confiscated and you'll be prosecuted for driving without insurance."

Check that you are covered now, and if you have allowed your insurance to lapse, or you are looking to give yourself the protection you, your home and your car deserve, visit AA Insurance, or for car insurance phone 0800 316 2456 and for home insurance phone 0800 197 6169.

Severe weather tips

  • Check with the Environment Agency to see if your home is at risk.

    Alternatively, call Floodline on 0845 988 1188.

    In Scotland, advice is available from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

  • Listen to weather forecasts and check your local forecast if the Met Office issues severe weather warnings; tune in to your local radio station.

    If your home is in imminent danger try to move as much as you can out of reach of any floodwater – furniture, rugs, etc.

  • If you have sandbags, block off your doors and in toilet bowls to prevent sewage back-flow.

    You can buy sandbags and sand quite cheaply from local builders' merchants, but if there is a sudden threat supplies may run out.

  • If floodwater starts to affect your locality put together some essentials in case you have to leave your home:
    • medication
    • clothing
    • toiletries
    • your children's favourite toys and books
    • some food (such as chocolate and biscuits)
    • bottled drinking water
    • a torch (with fresh batteries)
  • Empty freezers and refrigerators.

    If you have time, leaving doors open.

  • If you have time, take pictures of valuables and/or damage.

    Mobile phone pictures will do, especially as any photos may help with later insurance claims.

  • Turn off the mains power, gas and water.
  • Take your mobile phones and chargers.
  • Shut and lock windows and doors – and don't forget your pets.
  • If floodwater comes, take care.

    Remember fast-flowing water is very powerful – especially in a flash flood.

    Ironwork (drain covers) can be forced out and the unwary could fall down one or trip over drain covers or other underwater debris.

  • Don't attempt to drive your car through deep water.

    Your car is likely to stall and a powerful flood can move it.

    If in doubt, don't leave home, and stay upstairs (or go to a neighbour if you live in a bungalow or mobile home) and wait for rescue or for the water to subside.

  • When the water has subsided don't put the electricity on or use your gas.

    Wait until it has been checked.

  • Dispose of any food that has been in contact with floodwater.
  • Boil tap water or use bottled water until the water supply has been declared safe.

Last updated: 1 October 2009