Research

STUDY: 2 in 3 Americans think climate change is making storms worse — and they’re afraid for their homes

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The Zebra finds nearly a quarter of Americans have already experienced recent storm or disaster damage. 

Introduction

From the Florida panhandle to the Colorado Rockies, Americans are worried. They say severe storms and natural disasters are a growing threat to their homes and property, and the changing climate is to blame. 

A new study from The Zebra finds that65.1% of U.S. homeowners and renters believe that climate change is causing worse storms in the place where they live. Regardless of the cause, three in four of them fear that their homes, cars or personal property could be damaged by a natural disaster in the next year. 

In fact, natural catastrophes have grown significantly in number and severity over the past decade. According to government data, twice as many billion-dollar natural disasters hit the U.S. in the 2010s than did in the 2000s. The country now averages $35 billion per year in insured catastrophe damage, up from $25 billion per year in the 2000s.  

And that’s just the insureddamage. Every year, billions of dollars in un- or underinsured personal property — homes, cars, furniture, clothes, electronics and more — are damaged or destroyed with no way for disaster victims to recover the loss. 

In order to better understand how Americans are navigating these growing risks, The Zebra surveyed homeowners and renters from across the U.S. about their severe weather concerns and how they plan to prepare for the next catastrophic event. 

Finding 1

3 in 4 Americans worry they could face storm or disaster damage this year

Just when the safety of home is more important than ever, nearly 3 in 4 U.S. homeowners and renters (72.6%) worry that a disaster could arrive on their doorstep. 

Respondents in the South expressed more concern (78.4%) about the threat than average, while those in the Midwest were slightly less worried (67.4%). 

Overall, tornadoeswere the event that worried respondents most nationwide. However, a closer look at the data shows regional differences in the most-feared calamities. 

These findings suggest that most Americans are taking the threat of natural disasters seriously. In fact, a significant portion of survey respondents said they have already been the victims of majors storms or disasters.

Finding 2

1 in 4 Americans recently experienced storm or disaster damage

Nearly 1 in 4 survey respondents (24.4%) say a severe storm or natural disaster damaged their home, car or personal belongings in the past five years. 

These storm or disaster victims come from all over the country, making it clear that natural catastrophes can happen anywhere, to anyone. Respondents described just how serious and sudden the damage can be. 

While a slight majority of respondents (55.6%) said the storm damage they experienced was covered in full by their insurance, 10.6% said the damage was only partially covered. One in three (33.6%) respondents were not covered — meaning they had to pay for storm damage and repairs themselves — because they didn’t have insurance, they didn’t submit a claim or their claim was denied. 

Not all insurance policies are the same, and details in the fine print can mean the difference between having to pay for disaster damage out of your own pocket and getting a check from the insurance company.

Unfortunately, most respondents were confused about what disaster protections their insurance actually provides.

Finding 3

Only 1 in 4 Americans can correctly identify what disasters they’re insured against

We asked respondents to tell us about their insurance and what coverage they expect to have if they’re faced with storm or disaster damage. 

Car insurance

Only a quarter of respondents (25.4%) could correctly identify the storms or disasters their current car insurance policy is likely to cover.

Meanwhile, nearly one in three respondents (29.2%) admitted they didn’t actually know what their car insurance covered. 

In fact, disaster coverage for your car is pretty straight forward.  

Drivers who have full-coveragecar insurance, including comprehensivecoverage, are typically protected against all kinds of storm damage. If the car gets clobbered by hail, the damage (averaging $3,428, according to a study by the Highway Loss Data Institute) will be fixed by the insurance company. 

However, if you’ve purchasedliability-only car insurance, you’re only covered for damage you cause in an accident. It does not pay for any damage to your own vehicle, whether it was caused by a fender bender or a tornado. 

 

Home and condo insurance

Home and condo insurance are a little more complicated when it comes to coverage for storms and disasters. 

Some types of damage (hail, lightning, wind, volcanic eruption, snow/ice) are typically covered under most home and condo owners insurance policies. (Be sure to check your policy to verify coverage details. If you live in an area prone to certain disasters, additional deductibles and exclusions may apply.)

Other events — like flooding, earthquakes, sinkholes and mudslides — are almost always excluded.Considering that just one inch of flood water can cause more than $25,000 in damage to the average home, it’s important to know where your coverage stands. 

Nearly half (48.1%) of survey respondents believed their property is covered for flood damage — yet only 11.6% of condo owners and 18.1% of home owners had purchased flood insurance. 

Did you know?

+ If you wait until the storm is coming, it’s too late to buy insurance. Flood insurance and other disaster coverage usually doesn’t take effect for 30 days.

+ On average, flood insurance costs $700 per year in the U.S., according to FEMA. The average flood insurance claim payout in 2019 was $52,000.

+ To buy flood insurance, speak with your home or renters insurance provider, or contact the National Flood Insurance Program for a referral.

Homeowners in high-risk areas are often required to buy flood insurance as a condition of their mortgage. However, more than 20% of flood insurance claims come from outside high-risk areas. 


Disaster insurance policies for floods, windstorms (hurricanes), and wildfires are commonly sold via government programs like the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and a growing number of private insurers. However, NFIP policies typically cap out at $250,000 to rebuild your home and $100,000 to replace your belongings.If you need additional coverage, private insurance may be your best option.
 

Renters insurance 

Renters can also experience significant losses during a storm or natural disaster.Consider the cost to replace your sofa, computer, clothes, and other personal property if they’re all suddenly ruined in a storm.

Most renters insurance policies coversome storms and disasters, like lightningwindhailvolcanic eruptions, and winter stormsRenters insurance does not cover flooding or earthquakes— a fact many survey respondents didn’t seem to know. 

Nearly half (48.1%) of renters who have renters insurance thought they were covered for flooding, but only 9.9% of them purchased flood insurance. Just like homeowners, renters can purchase coverage through a private insurance company or government program. 

Finding 4

80.5% of Americans have taken at least one step to prepare for a severe storm or natural disaster

While most Americans may need to double check their insurance coverage, the good news is that many are actively preparing for Mother Nature’s fury. 

The most popular preparation was setting aside emergency food and supplies, followed by safely storing important documents. Nearly a quarter of respondents said they made home improvements to reduce their risk, such as adding storm shutters or clearing dead trees.  

The majority of respondents (72.8%)  said they considered their home’s storm and disaster risks before they moved in.Nearly half (43.7%) said they chose not to move to a particular city or region because they worried about severe storms or natural disasters. 

Unfortunately, many respondents said they struggled to prepare. 

In fact, 42.5% worried they were underinsured or didn’t have the right type of insurance to protect their home, car and belongings. About the same number (43.4%)said they couldn’t afford insurance that would provide coverage for severe storms or natural disasters. 

Many respondents also said they would struggle to pay for a sudden emergency. Nearly half of the respondents had less than $500 in emergency savings — and 20% of them had no emergency fund at all. 

While insurance covers some expenses, policyholders still need cash on hand to pay for insurance deductibles and emergency repairs after a disaster.

In addition to taking steps to prepare themselves, respondents wanted their communities to step up. The vast majority (75.2%) said their local government should take actions like addressing storm water management and revising zoning rules to prevent disaster losses. 

Conclusion

Preparation starts with knowing where you stand

Even though 73.3% of respondents said they felt educated about how to prepare for a severe storm or natural disaster, the survey findings show that many Americans haven’t taken recommended steps to get ready. 

To prepare for the next major event, experts suggest that you: 

Know your risks 

  • Understand what severe storms and natural disasters could impact you where you live. You can check your risk for flooding via FEMA flood maps, but remember that low-risk areas can still see catastrophic events. 
  • Check your insurance coverage so you know which events you’re financially protected against — and which ones aren’t covered. While you’re at it, check your policy limits and coverage details. You don’t want to be surprised to find out after the storm that you’re not covered to replace your stuff or rebuild your home. 

Get prepared 

  • Create a home inventory and store it online or in a safe location away from your home.Use whatever method is best for you — a smartphone app, printed checklist or a photo or video record of every room (including the basement and garage). 
  • Discuss your disaster plan with your family and build anemergency kit. Consider special supplies you might need for pets, young children and senior members of your family.
  • Do what you can to reduce your risk. Remove hazards like dead tree limbs and brush from your property. Consider adding storm shutters or hardier roofing to your home. If severe weather is in the forecast, try to protect your car with covered parking.
  • If you’re concerned your home, car or personal belongings aren’t adequately protected, take time now to buy or increase insurance coverage.It takes 30 days for most flood insurance policies to take effect. When a storm is on the horizon, it’s usually too late.

 

Methodology

This report presents the findings of an anonymous online survey of 1,100 U.S. residents age 18 and older residing in all 50 states and Washington D.C, calibrated by age, gender, homeownership status and geographic region. Trap questions were included for quality control. The margin of error for the sample size is +/-3% at a 95% level of confidence. The survey was conducted by independent research firm SurveyGizmo from March 2-16, 2020. Download the full report for all survey questions and additional details. 


For more findings and analysis, read the full report.

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