The winter storm that dumped piles of snow on the Northeast over the weekend has cost insurance companies at least $25 million, according to early industry estimates, and insurers are expecting more damage claims once all the white powder starts to melt.
Insurance companies cautioned yesterday that it is way too early to start calculating the total damage from the latest storm.
"We have had very few claims filed thus far, and that's to be expected," said Mark Schussel, a spokesman for the Chubb Corp. "But it's not the storm itself that creates the claims. It's the meltdown."
The National Weather Service is forecasting mild temperatures and rain for the end of the week, with highs reaching 52 by Saturday. That means a lot of water will undoubtedly end up in people's basements.
Insurance companies vary on what types of water damage they cover. In general, water damage that comes from the inside is covered and water damage from the outside is not, although there are exceptions. For example, many policies cover water damage from a leaking roof, such as that caused by an ice dam, or a ridge of ice that prevents snow on the roof from draining.
"We've got a situation where much of the damage may occur from this point forward," said Philip J. Crowley, vice president of public affairs for the New York-based Insurance Information Institute. "That may shape up to be the most significant issue to this storm."
As with past storms, most recent claims have come from homeowners dealing with roof damage, downed trees and power outages.
State Farm Insurance Cos., the nation's largest home and auto insurer, reported 3,224 storm-related claims as of yesterday. Of those, 100 were automobile claims and 3,124 were homeowner claims.
Officials cited the holiday weekend, the advance warning and even the threat of a terrorist attack for keeping people home, which may have cut down on the number of automobile claims associated with the storm.
"The early indications are that this is going to be relatively light in terms of impact," Crowley said. "It happened in the middle of a three-day weekend, and it was forecast well in advance. People stayed put."
Commercial insurance companies also reported a light number of claims. Kemper Insurance Cos. said it had received about a dozen claims from businesses, involving such problems as frozen pipes and collapsed roofs.
Some companies said the fact that the storm consisted mostly of snow may have cut down on the amount of damage. Ice storms can cause much more damage.