The last few weeks has seen unseasonably humid weather in our arid Southern California climate. It’s uncharacteristic for our climate to have high humidity. Last week the monsoonal thunderstorms brought a great tragedy as a young man on the beach of Venice died from a lightning strike off the pier. This last weekend brought bands of intensely heavy rain. In some places the rain was so sudden and so hard that we’ve had a several inches pour down in a few hours. It’s never good to have such strong, sudden downpours when we’ve been in such a drought as there is no place for the water to go but rush downhill. In particular, the mountain communities have suffered from these flash floods bringing mudslides, which block roads and bury vehicles and homes.

As I watched these terrible images on our local news broadcasts, I realized that many of these homeowners will be left in a bad financial predicament. For many, their normal homeowner’s insurance will not be covering such damage. Mud related damage is often excluded. When we characterize mud related damage we are referring to mudslides and mudflows (yes, there is a difference). Generally a mudslide is considered earth movement of land and rock sliding down a hill and is outside of a normal homeowner’s policy. To have this loss covered, a homeowner usually needs a separate earthquake policy that covers personal and property damage from earth movement. A mudflow is equally serious, but is defined as more of a watery stream of mud. We tend to think of mudflows as being caused by sudden snow thawing or heavy rain downpours. Most of the time, in order to have coverage for mudflow damage it’s imperative to purchase a separate policy for flood insurance.

In mountain areas, it may seem strange that homeowners need flood coverage as they are not within “flood plains”. When we think of flooding as rising waters, the coverage in mountain areas doesn’t seem to make sense, but it’s important if the home is in the pathway of rain runoff. Although rare, instances such as this last week of monsoonal weather is a wake-up call to insureds in Southern California to check with their brokers and agents and see if their homes are adequately protected in years such as these when the weather patterns change and cause damage. After all, meteorologists are predicting an El Nino year and if it’s anything like those rains back in 1997, we are looking at constant rain, winds, and flooding.