Weathering the storm: La Niña

07 December 2016

Unless you’ve been living off the grid – away from the constant flow of mainstream news and social media updates, you’ve probably heard of the El Niño weather phenomenon. In fact, you’ve undoubtedly felt the effects of it to varying degrees, depending on which part of South Africa you inhabit, with reduced rainfall, droughts, poor crop yields and dangerously low ground and dam water reserves characterising this worrisome weather pattern.

So, whilst El Niño has been wreaking havoc and making a name for himself in the news, what you may not have heard of (yet) is El Niño’s antithetical sister, La Niña. But whether you’re familiar with La Niña or not, it’s vital that you’re prepared for this approaching weather pattern which is predicted to continue plaguing South Africa well into 2017.

What exactly is La Niña?

The South African Weather Service describes El Niño, which means ‘the little boy’ in Spanish, as “the warming of sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean which influences atmospheric circulation, and consequently rainfall and temperature”. This usually results in a reduction of rainfall, which explains the recent droughts that we’ve experienced throughout the country.

Conversely, La Niña, meaning ‘the little girl’ in Spanish,  is the polar opposite, characterised by the cooling of sea-surface temperatures and an increase in rainfall. Thus, we have seen a more recent spate of torrential downpours and subsequent flash flooding in parts of SA.

Together, this twosome can wreak havoc on a country’s natural resources and weather patterns.

What can we expect in the coming year?

We sat with Absa Insurance’s Business Efficiency Manager, Caroline Hadley, to discuss the potential dangers La Niña may bring with it, how to protect yourself, and what to do in the event that you find your assets damaged by forces beyond your control.

“One of the biggest problems with this schizophrenic swing in the weather is that El Niño effectively set in a drought, which resulted in massively reduced groundwater reserves and, with the ground still hard and unsaturated, any considerable rainfall can result in flash floods, as the water isn’t absorbed fast enough and massive run-off occurs. Additionally, we have increased levels of urban development – more tarmac, more buildings, less ground to absorb the rain – and poor maintenance of infrastructure such as drainage systems and traffic lights. Thus, with the increased rain that La Niña is sure to bring, we are going to be faced with many potential dangers,” Caroline describes earnestly.

The reality is that we should expect 2017 to bring heavy rainfall, potential flooding of homes and businesses, dangerous road conditions and a whole host of other weather events.

The good news is that we can prepare for it and ensure we are covered for any eventuality.

So what can we do to protect ourselves and our assets?

Caroline suggests a number of practical steps to ensure you’re ready for any inclement weather, such as ensuring your gutters are kept clear of leaves and other debris, making sure you fix any holes or leaks in your roof or windows and ensuring your vehicle is always well maintained and roadworthy. These may not cause any issues under normal circumstances, but in extreme weather these can compound and cause major damage that may constitute negligence and render an insurance claim void.

But it’s not just the practical measures that Caroline advises, as certain behaviour can make the world of difference too.

“If you’re going on holiday, ensure there’s a friend, family member or neighbour that can check up on your property after a huge storm. Broken windows, leaking roofs, burst geysers and other such issues can cause major damage to your home should they be left unattended for long periods,” she states.

“If you’re driving during a storm you really need to exercise extreme caution, with the roads susceptible to floods and slippery conditions, traffic lights going on the blink, etc. There’s also a major difference between finding yourself suddenly surrounded by flood waters that damage your vehicle, and you choosing to try and cross a flooded road and damaging your vehicle as a result, which can be construed as reckless or negligent behaviour. Just don’t take any unnecessary risks that can affect the validity of your insurance claim.”

Obviously there are going to be situations which you simply can’t prevent, which is why it’s crucial that you have insurance policies in place. Caroline advises that a Home Owners Insurance Policy against the bond on your house should ensure you’re covered for all major natural and weather events, whilst personal cover will ensure your vehicle and other assets are protected from La Niña’s touch.

But what do I do if something goes wrong?

“The first thing you should do if your assets are damaged by any kind of extreme weather-related event is to call your insurer,” Caroline advises.
“They will be able to help advise and assist you in resolving the situation and avoiding any further damage. If your car is damaged in a flood, for instance, they can arrange for towing, call an ambulance if you need it and help in a number of other ways, besides just helping you file the claim.”

In any emergency situation, ensure that you call an ambulance first, and then your insurer after as they will provide a cool, calm head to help you assess and resolve the situation.

Caroline also advises that you take pictures and/or videos of the damage for evidence (document everything to ensure you avoid legal issues), if possible try and salvage any possessions from flooded homes or cars (as long as you don’t put yourself in danger) and be sure to open windows and doors and try and reduce further water damage to your assets.

“And if your house is uninhabitable due to the damage, be sure to let your insurer know, as they will arrange temporary accommodation for you. They really will do all they can to ensure you’re safe and covered in every aspect,” Caroline says reassuringly.

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst!

Caroline imparts a final, sage piece of wisdom for the year ahead: “It’s essential that you regularly value your assets to ensure that you’re adequately covered in the event of irreparable damage to your assets. So often people that claim are under-insured and they blame the bank, but the reality is that their insurance premium does not match the value of their assets. Renovations to your home, new TVs and electronic goods all need to be valued and included in your policy, and it’s a good idea to have your assets valued every 2-3 years and your cover subsequently updated.”

Although we can’t predict how La Niña will affect us personally, we can ensure that we are prepared and protected, no matter what comes our way.
We hope that you stay safe and prosper this festive season, but just in case you might need it, you can get more information about vehicle finance or make a claim here. Or, if you need information around household insurance or if you have to make a related claim, you can click here.

Disclaimer: The advice contained on this blog is for general purposes only and does not take into account individual circumstances, objectives or financial needs. Accordingly, readers are advised to seek appropriate advice from licensed professionals prior to making any investment, or taking up a financial product or service.