In my recent blog entitled California Moonsonal Weather Brings Mud property Damage to Southern California, But Is It Covered Damage, I wrote about the differences between mudslides and mudflows and what kind of insurance policies cover these damages in the event a homeowner has the misfortune of experiencing these disastrous losses. In light of Hawai’i’s recent double weather events of direct hit Iselle and near miss Julio, I thought it would be prudent to discuss tropical storms and hurricanes and how those differences impact insurance policyholders.

This last week, Hawai’i experienced an unusual phenomenon because two hurricanes lined up in succession in the Pacific Ocean and moved towards the Hawaiian Islands. Moreover, Hawai’i also experienced its first direct hit from a tropical storm in twenty two years. Originally, Iselle was classified as a hurricane but as it approached the Islands, thankfully Iselle was downgraded to a tropical storm. On Iselle’s heels, Hurricane Julio continues to blow and will bypass the Islands by passing to the north. This doesn’t mean that Hawai’i will not be experiencing adverse effects from Julio.

In all the chaos of talking about hurricanes and tropical storms, it’s important to remember that both are types of weather phenomenon known as cyclones and their true differences is merely from their method of categorization. However, this categorization will impact how the claim is made on an insurance policy. A tropical storm is a cyclone consisting of wind speeds between 39 mph to 73 mph. A hurricane is a cyclone that has wind speeds in excess of 74 mph. Hurricanes are classified by categories, and the higher the sustained wind speed, the higher the category classification.

How does this affect insurance policyholders? The short answer is that wind and rain damage from a tropical storm is covered under a Hawai’i standard homeowner’s policy and damage caused by a hurricane is not. If indeed a hurricane causes damage, the only way that the damage is covered is if the insured purchased separate hurricane coverage. Hurricane coverage is much like earthquake coverage, which is purchased separate and apart from the standard homeowner’s insurance policy.

Hurricane Iselle was downgraded to a tropical storm before it hit the Big Island of Hawaii, so damage caused by Iselle will be covered under the policyholder’s standard homeowner’s insurance. Luckily, Julio, which has continued to sustain hurricane force winds will be skirting the Hawaiian Islands to the north. Although there may be damages from wind, rain and surf, the lack of the direct impact to the Islands will hopefully allow for minimized damages.