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Are severe weather conditions the new normal?

South Africans are counting the cost of damage caused by bad weather conditions, but should we be bracing for a new normal of abnormally heavy rain?

Home weather damage - stock photo

KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng were hit by severe weather conditions this week that caused millions of Rands worth of damages. 

Schools and hospitals were battered by strong winds, highways were flooded, and roads were blocked by fallen trees. 

Images of roofs being blown away, flooded homes, and cars being swept away became the norm on social media, as scores of people were affected by the bad weather. At least 14 people were killed.

ALSO READ: One dead in Krugersdorp storm

Businesses have also had to shut down for repairs, causing further financial losses. 

The damage caused in KZN alone is believed to be as high as R500-million.

Many on social media described the Durban storm as something they had never seen before, while some were convinced it was the effects of global warming. 

ClimateWise, a coalition of global insurers, brokers and industry service providers, says weather-related catastrophes have increased by 600% since the 1950s. 

Cape Town storms in June, and the recent Knysna fires, resulted in an estimated R4-billion in damages. 

Mandy Barrett of insurance brokerage and risk advisors, Aon South Africa, says the severe weather conditions experienced in SA over the past few months, and years, highlight how vulnerable the country is to climate change, and changing weather patterns. 

"The downpours happen in a matter of minutes with incredible intensity, with some areas reporting golf-ball size hailstones, proving that extreme weather catastrophes happen with very little warning, and there is just no telling as to how severe they will be.  General consensus from meteorologists is that climate change is having a massive impact on property losses, and South Africa should brace for a new normal of abnormally heavy rain and hail storms, powerful winds and drought conditions in many regions,” she said in a statement.   

South Africa's rainy season is just starting! 

“With much of October and November still ahead of us - traditionally the months that have tallied the most severe weather events and financial losses - there is a need for extra precautions.  The severity of the flooding and damage we are seeing is alarming, and while there is little that you can do to prevent a flood, there are some important tips that can help protect your personal safety and assets in such freak weather conditions,” says Mandy.

Aon has put together tips on how you can be more prepared for bad weather conditions. 

On the road:  

  • Take special note of weather warnings and if possible, avoid being on the road or out and about during such times.

  • If you can, rather avoid driving in heavy downpours. Treacherous potholes could be hiding in the guise of a puddle. Never attempt to drive through a flooded area of the road – even a few centimetres of water is powerful enough to sweep a car away.

  • If caught in a flash flood on the road, get yourself to safety as quickly as possible – if you can, get out of the vehicle and get to high ground.  Don’t close all the windows as the water will cause a vacuum and trap you in the car.   

  • Many car accident claims are due to slippery roads and potholes. Tyre damage is not an uncommon occurrence, and is normally not covered by a motor insurance policy unless another part of the vehicle is damaged at the same time.

  • Check your tyre tread and replace worn tyres - an accident claim could potentially be repudiated if the tread is deemed insufficient to have stopped the vehicle in time. The legally required minimum tread depth is 1.6mm.  

  • Increase your following distance and reduce your speed to allow enough time to react.

  • Watch out for potholes as they are filled with water in rainy conditions.  Heavy rainfalls can also cause potholes to appear where there weren’t any previously.

  • Watch for motorists swerving to avoid objects in the road and be prepared to do the same.  

  • Many traffic lights are out of order during heavy rain, so drive carefully.

  • Roads are congested with many tempers fraying, keep your cool.

Tips for home:  

  • Your homeowner’s insurance policy will cover any damage to the structure of the building as a direct result of freak rainstorms, but will not cover maintenance-related damage. This means that while your insurance will respond by repairing the damage caused by a leaking roof, it will not cover the repair of the roof’s waterproofing if it deteriorated due to lack of maintenance.  

  • If you’re faced with flooding of your property, try to move as many of your belongings as you can out of the water – the longer the water is left sitting, the more damage it causes. Try and clear away as much of the water as you possibly can to prevent further and permanent damage.

  • Half a meter of paving along the perimeter of a building can help with damp problems.

  • Keep gutters clear of debris to facilitate proper drainage around the house. Protect inlet/outlet pipes of any drains and storm water drainage against blockage from debris.  

  • Check the waterproofing and flashings on the roof on a regular basis.

  • Install lightning rods along the outside of the house if your area is prone to lightning strikes and fit plugs with surge protection.  

Mandy says those who have suffered losses during a storm should make sure they claim with their insurance as soon as possible. 

She added that motor and household insurance holders should review their needs, and check with their brokers that they are "comprehensively covered" for such disasters.  

"Bear in mind claims volumes after such catastrophic events will be high and there may be delays in getting assessments and repairs done and shortages of hire cars.  There is also the annual shutdown to consider in December which may see your damages only repaired in the New Year should you suffer a loss closer to the holiday period." 

ALSO READ: Seven mistakes first-time home buyers make – expert advice

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