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Economy

Hurricane Idalia Is About to Hit Another Insurance-Starved Region

Georgia and the Carolinas are about to get hit. Like Florida, they’re having insurance problems.

A hurricane with a Ben Franklin eye.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

While Hurricane Idalia missed heavily populated areas of Florida, the storm, along with the wind and rain that accompanies it, is bearing down on Georgia and the Carolinas. While these states have avoided a full-scale insurance crisis like the ongoing one with Florida, they have dealt with higher rates, shrinking policies, and expanded risk, especially in coastal areas.

The storm is currently around the Florida-Georgia border and coastal areas from Savannah to Myrtle Beach to Wilmington are in its cone, according to the National Hurricane Center. Savannah is under a storm surge warning, while Myrtle Beach and Wilmington are under a flood watch.

While the National Weather Service has warned that the “main impact” will be rain and flooding, it has also cautioned that “Isolated tornadoes are also expected, mainly along the coast. Tropical storm force winds may cause downed trees and power outages. The highest chance of wind-related impacts will be along the coast.”

It’s this kind of damage that’s likely to exact a toll on an already strained insurance market up and down the southern Atlantic coast.

The area is popular with vacationers, second-home owners, and retirees, and experienced an influx of Covid-era migration. This region is one of the most economically exposed to damage from climate change, according to Moody’s Analytics. “Among metro areas, large coastal economies bear by far the most risk. Nowhere is this more pronounced than along the Carolina coast, with the stretch from Jacksonville, North Carolina, to Charleston, South Carolina, facing the greatest threat,” Moody’s wrote in a report.

Already, before the storm, insurers were asking for large rate increases from state regulators, including a 50 percent bump in so-called “dwelling” policies in North Carolina (these are policies specifically for homes not occupied by their owners, which insurers often charge heftier premiums for). Coastal North Carolina is no stranger to hurricane damage, Hurricane Florence, which made landfall near Wilmington, killed 42 people and caused over $16 billion worth of damage in 2018.

Some condominium owners in Hilton Head have even seen 500% premium increases for their buildings’ master insurance policies. Homeowners insurance, especially on the coast, is such a severe problem in South Carolina that the state even has a tax credit for homeowners whose premiums are over 5 percent of their incomes. And in Myrtle Beach, some homeowners told WBTW that they had seen 25 to 40 percent hikes in their home insurance. In 2021, South Carolina lost FedNat Insurance, after it pulled out of several southern states due to the losses it took thanks to catastrophic weather.

In Georgia, homeowners insurance premiums have increased in the last year, which Steve Manders, Georgia’s deputy insurance commissioner, blamed in an interview with WABE on supply chain issues, which make repairs more expensive, and the rising costs of reinsurance, which is essentially insurance for the insurance companies.

Reinsurance costs rise when insurance companies across the industry have to make large payouts, like in the case with increasingly damaging extreme weather. “Reinsurance costs have gone up over the past several years, that is compounding the catastrophic issues we’re seeing on the claims side,” Manders told WABE. “I do not see a slowing down,” of rising homeowners insurance costs.

The first half of this year “featured above average natural catastrophe losses,” according to the insurance broker Gallagher and the past six hurricane seasons “brought insurance carriers notable upward pressure on the cost of purchasing reinsurance cover.” Reinsurers were raising rates by 25 to 40 percent, according to Gallagher.

One coastal South Carolina resident even told WPDE that she blamed “California's problems with the fires and hurricanes that don't affect us” for the higher insurance premiums her homeowners association was paying. That area is currently under a flood watch and tropical storm warning.

Green
Matthew Zeitlin profile image

Matthew Zeitlin

Matthew is a correspondent at Heatmap. Previously he was an economics reporter at Grid, where he covered macroeconomics and energy, and a business reporter at BuzzFeed News, where he covered finance. He has written for The New York Times, the Guardian, Barron's, and New York Magazine.

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