I know I’m getting old but hearing kids talk about the ‘backyard’, ‘gas stations’ and other Americanisms is annoying and one reason I haven’t taken to following the Americans in naming storms.

…To be named, a storm affecting the British Isles must have the potential of causing disruption or damage, hence triggering a red or amber warning. The line-up for the 2019/20 season has been announced starting with Atiyah and then alphabetically, excluding Q, U, X, Y, Z (because that’s what the Americans do). Let’s just hope we don’t get to ‘Willow’, otherwise it will have been a very wet and windy winter.

In the insurance world, what constitutes a storm is frequently the cause of arguments. Some policies define the characteristics of a storm, which typically follow the Association of British insurers definition as violent weather with wind speeds gusting to 55 mph (force 10 on the Beaufort scale), torrential rain (25 mm per hour), one foot of snow in an hour or hail hard enough to break glass.

One problem is that insurers then rely on data from the likes of the Met Office to check if there were ‘storm’ conditions where the damaged property is located. This is not generally an issue with big widespread storms but can be when conditions are more localised.  The weather stations collecting data may be some distance away and will not always reflect the same conditions where the damage occurred or record short but very strong gusts or ‘tunnelling’ of wind by buildings or hills. On the south coast the Downs can make a significant difference to our weather with local micro climates and, whilst not a storm claim, I recall a client taking out a Pluvious (too much rain) Policy for an event many years ago. The insurers sited a rainfall collection bucket at the home of one of their staff a few miles away from the event and the inevitable happened. Heavy rain at the event and nothing in the bucket! The client cried foul, but we managed to get the claim paid with a statement from the local vicar that it had rained.

Nowadays the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) often get involved in storm claims for personal and small business policyholders and tend to take a less rigid approach saying storms generally involve violent winds, usually accompanied by rain, hail or snow.

The FOS also frequently resolve disputes about maintenance issues and whether it was storm damage or wear and tear or poor maintenance. Here they will look at whether the primary cause was storm or poor maintenance and whether the insurer imposes conditions such as checking the condition of roofs (often a requirement for flat roofs under commercial property policies). The FOS will support insurers if a building has been poorly maintained.

One way of trying to avoid the argument about whether a storm has occurred is to make sure you also have accidental damage cover, it won’t cover events that are excluded elsewhere in a policy but does give the opportunity to argue that if it wasn’t a storm it was accidental damage.