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Midwest still rebuilding after highly damaging derecho

Property and Casualty Insurance
by Dave Palmer
Midwest still rebuilding after highly damaging derecho
Midwest still rebuilding after highly damaging derecho

Earlier this year, a rare but incredibly violent storm known as a derecho ripped across the Upper Midwest, and did billions of dollars worth of damage. While the storm largely affected people and businesses in Iowa, it also created problems in South Dakota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and even Michigan before it finally ground to a halt. Now, nearly three months after that storm first hit, the affected areas are still trying to recover.

A derecho is a heavy wind storm associated with the formation of thunderstorms, and tends to last for hours. On August 10, one such storm blasted the Upper Midwest and caused some $7.5 billion in damage (as an initial estimate), along with leaving four people dead in its wake, according to The Washington Post. While almost a dozen hurricanes and tropical storms have made landfall in the U.S. so far in this historically busy Atlantic hurricane season, only Hurricane Laura did more damage than the derecho.

While forecasters did see the derecho coming, they did not predict how strong it would be: Sustained wind gusts of at least 70 miles per hour battered large parts of Iowa and Illinois, and some gusts hit more than 110 miles an hour, with a peak of 126 miles per hour recorded in Atkins, Iowa. While there was significant damage to buildings and other man-made objects, the storm's biggest impact came for crops and trees; millions of acres comprising some 20% of the entire Hawkeye State's farmland were affected by both strong winds and small-size hail propelled at high speeds.

High winds did massive damage to Iowa crops.High winds did massive damage to Iowa crops.

Lingering issues abound
As if the damages wrought by the storm itself weren't enough, the Progressive Farmer notes that the agriculture sector across Iowa has also had to contend with some other unexpected weather events in the time since. All of these serve to continue the longstanding difficulties suffered by the industry, including a late-October snowstorm that dumped as many as 9 inches of heavy snow on about a third of the state, falling most heavily where farmers were still dealing with the derecho fallout. Heavy rains have also persisted off and on throughout the Hawkeye State.

Some farmers were already working to process their crops at a slower pace than usual when the snowstorms hit, and due to both the volume and wetness of the snow, it makes harvesting even slower than normal, for a litany of technical reasons. And as one might expect, yields of crops that can be harvested are greatly diminished from what a normal year would see. Moreover, some weather experts believe that the weather conditions known as La Nina could persist in the region, meaning more difficulties could arise for some time to come.

The impact on buildings
All of the above goes without even mentioning the impact these weather events have all collectively had on the many buildings initially damaged by the derecho. Cedar Rapids television station KCRG reports that demand for builders and roofers to repair damaged structures is understandably at a fevered pitch and that many are working significantly harder than normal to meet demand before the brutal cold and adverse weather of another Upper Midwest winter sets in.

Due to the sheer volume of work that needs to be done around the state, many homeowners and businesses may wait weeks or months before professionals can get to their properties, even just to put together an estimate for how much the repairs would cost. In the meantime, they're resorting to half measures to keep their properties protected from the elements. At the same time, tradespeople are trying to set reasonable expectations; it simply won't be possible for everything that was damaged by a storm in August to be fixed before the start of the new year. This is due in part to demand, but also supply chain and labor disruptions stemming from the pandemic, wildfires in the Western U.S., and hurricane season, among other pressing issues.

As such, homeowners will need to properly protect their homes from the elements in the months ahead, until professionals can do the job right.

The impact on insurers
The good news for builders and homeowners alike is that because this was a wind storm, it's quite likely that their standard homeowners insurance policies will cover the cost of repairs to their homes. The Cedar Rapids Gazette notes that there may be all kinds of varying circumstances that might impact their unique insurance needs. As such, Aaron Pearce, board president with the Iowa Insurance Institute, told the newspaper that affected households should examine their policies and consult with their insurers to determine the next steps.

However, as with professionals who can repair the damaged homes, insurers are likely inundated with claims and calls, even months after the derecho first hit, and may need to take significant time to process everything. The more insurance companies themselves can do to clearly communicate the status of any claim to policyholders, the better off all involved are likely to be.



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