An earthquake is a sudden, rapid shaking of the Earth caused by the breaking and shifting of rock beneath the Earth’s surface. The largest recorded earthquake in the U.S. was a magnitude 9.2 that struck Prince William Sound, Alaska on March 28, 1964. Thankfully, not all earthquakes are of that magnitude, but whatever their intensity, these seismic events can cause damage to property from ground movement, fires, or water damage from burst pipes to a fire sprinkler leakage.


Devastating floods occur throughout the U.S. every year, and ninety percent of all presidentially- declared natural disasters involve some degree of flooding. Several factors contribute to flooding, and two key elements are rainfall intensity and duration. Intensity is the rate of rainfall, and duration is how long the rain lasts. Topography, soil conditions, and ground cover also play an important role in flooding.

According to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), floods cause billions of dollars in property damage in the U.S. every year. If you live in a high-risk area, your home has a 26% chance of being damaged by flooding during the course of your 30-year mortgage, compared to a 10% chance of being damaged by house fire.


Hail is the result of strong updrafts in the atmosphere that carry water droplets to heights where they freeze and fall to the ground as chunks of ice, also called stones. The larger the stones, the greater harm they may cause to people and property. Hail often occurs in violent thunderstorms, along with lightning and strong winds. It is also associated with tornadoes.

The largest hailstone ever recorded in the U.S. was found after a thunderstorm that struck Vivian, South Dakota on July 23, 2010. The hailstone, measuring eight inches wide and 18.62 inches around, was nearly the size of a soccer ball.

Hail occurs most frequently in the southern and central plain states. However, since hail often occurs in conjunction with thunderstorms, the potential for hail damage exists throughout the U.S. In an average year, hail causes nearly $1 billion in property and related damage.


A hurricane is a powerful tropical cyclone that forms over warm ocean waters in a moist, unstable atmosphere, and low wind shear. A hurricane can measure several hundred miles across, producing violent winds, devastating storm surge, tornadoes, and inland flooding. Deadly as well as destructive, hurricanes pose a threat to life and property from wind, rain, and flood. Several infamous and destructive storms include:

Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Charley in 2004, and Hurricane Andrew in 1992.


Lightning occurs when storm clouds cool below a certain temperature and positive and negative electrical charges in the clouds’ water vapor separate from top to bottom. Negative electrical charges at the bottom of the cloud grow in strength until a magnetic attraction causes those particles to ‘jump’ to positively charged particles accumulating at the ground.

Thousands of lightning strikes occur every year, and each strike has the potential to injure people and damage property by fires that damage electrical systems and other parts of a home. Approximately 90 deaths and 400 injuries are caused by lightning in the U.S. each year.

Lightning is the cause of thunder in rainstorm clouds that generate lightning, and, infrequently, lightning occurs during hurricanes, intense forest fires, and heavy snowstorms.


A microburst is a small, straight-line path wind associated with thunderstorms, limited in duration and geographic area. Despite their limited size, microbursts may cause property damage similar to the more powerful circular winds of tornadoes and hurricanes. Homes, automobiles, trees, sheds, fences, windows, and other property may be seriously damaged by microbursts. Microbursts are covered by homeowners insurance the same way as thunderstorms.

Power Outage

Power outages can occur in several ways—weather related or not. The short-circuiting of electrical wiring, such as during a lightning strike or a power overload, can interrupt electricity in your home. Water seeping onto electrical wires or into junction boxes, or falling tree limbs breaking a power line also can cause outages.

Natural causes generate approximately 44% of all power outages. The top causes measured by the average number of affected utility customers include earthquakes, hurricanes, ice, and tropical storms. The number of power outages is increasing primarily due to aging power grid facilities and the increased frequency of severe weather events.


In an average year, approximately 1,200 tornadoes are reported across the U.S., resulting in 75 deaths and more than 1,200 injuries. These violent storms typically leave a swath of property damage and death behind. Most U.S. tornadoes occur in an area called “Tornado Alley,” a strip of land running north from Texas to Minnesota. However, tornadoes can occur in any state, and can bring wind speeds above 200 miles per hour as well as torrential rain, hail, and lightning.


A wildfire is an unplanned and uncontrolled fire that most often occurs in areas where woods and homes coexist. These are not single home fires, but larger firestorms that threaten multiple homes, and typically burn many acres of forest. In an average year, more than 60,000 wildfires burn an average of 6.6 million acres across the United States. However, wildfires are not just a problem in the western U.S., where recent outbreaks have brought national attention; wildfires have occurred in nearly every state.

Winter Freeze

The Groundhog Day blizzard of 2011 resulted in record snowfall totals in Boston and Baltimore, with 27.5 inches and 28.2 inches, respectively. Winter freezes can immobilize an entire region, and even areas that normally experience mild winters can be hit with a major snowstorm or extreme cold. Winter storms can block roads, close highways, down power lines and cause flooding and storm surge. Winter freezes can damage your home in several ways, from freezing water that bursts water pipes to creating ice dams that cause water penetration in roofs and walls.

During the winter and early spring of 2013-2014, the “North American Cold Wave” generated low temperature, precipitation, and snowfall records across many geographic areas causing more than a dozen deaths, countless power outages, and an estimated $5 billion damage to commercial and personal property. Flooding due to melting snow and ice is not covered under standard homeowners policies, so flood insurance is critical for those exposed to winter freeze conditions that may cause flood damage.

The Actuarial Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, was established in 1994 to help facilitate and broaden the profession’s contribution to society. The Foundation explores innovative ways to apply actuarial skills in the public interest and brings together broad partnerships of individuals and organizations to address social problems in creative ways.

The nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, Inc. (FLASH®) is an award-winning coalition of government agencies, professional associations, and private industry committed to strengthening homes, safeguarding families, and protecting economic well-being by promoting disaster preparedness.

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