The first El Niño storm hit Southern California this week. Heavy rain and strong winds have caused flooding, mudslides, power outages and property damage. In Los Angeles, there was even a report of a "gustnado."

I know what a tornado is. I’ve even heard of a sharknado. But what on earth is a gustnado?

I did not know the answer at first, so looked it up. A gustnado is what meteorologists say is a "down burst" or "gusty winds associated with a gust front." It can easily be mistaken for a tornado.

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) defines a gustnado as follows:

A slang term for a short-lived, ground-based, shallow, vortex that develops on a gust front associated with either thunderstorms or showers. They may only extend to 30 to 300 feet above the ground with no apparent connection to the convective cloud above. They may be accompanied by rain, but usually are ‘wispy’, or only visible as a debris cloud or dust whirl at or near the ground. Wind speeds can reach 60 to 80 mph, resulting in significant damage, similar to that of a F0 or F1 tornado. However, gustnadoes are not considered to be a tornado, and some cases, it may be difficult to distinguish a gustnado from a tornado. Gustnadoes are not associated with storm-scale rotation (i.e. mesocyclones) that is involved with true tornadoes; they are more likely to be associated visually with a shelf cloud that is found on the forward side of a thunderstorm.

Since a gustnado is essentially a wind event and property damage caused by winds are covered under homeowner and business property policies, then damage from a gustnado is likewise covered. Wind related damage aside, I know that due to El Niño a good number of Californians will experience water intrusion into their homes from the heavy rain. Keep in mind that unless the water gets through a wind-created opening in the roof or walls, damage caused by rain entering the property through pre-existing holes, cracks and crevices is not covered. If you are unsure whether you have a claim covered under your policy, it would be wise to consult with an insurance professional.