Ron Landis walks through his driveway after it was clear of storm debris from Tropical Storm Isais, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, in Westport, Conn. Credit: John Minchillo | AP

HARTFORD, Conn. — Storm Isaias’ path of destruction through much of the East Coast could easily push insurance claims for property damage into the billions of dollars, but it may only be the beginning as forecasters predict twice as many named storms in the 2020 hurricane season as usual.

The prospect of more turbulent weather — and damage — possibly coming to some areas comes on top of worries about the future of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are looking at an extremely active season and perhaps one that is on par with 2005,” Mark Friedlander, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute, said, pointing to the most active year on record and the one in which Katrina struck New Orleans. “We are looking at extensive impacts throughout coastal states up and down the Atlantic Seaboard and the Gulf Coast.”

While it is still too early for claim estimates for Isaias, Friedlander said the storm, which toppled hundreds of trees in Connecticut alone, could easily reach into the “multibillions” for the combined states in the storm’s path.

One of those trees landed on the top of Martin Woods’ backyard shed in West Hartford, punching through the roof and crushing several rafters.

Woods and his wife, Cathy, were setting up a generator Tuesday evening after having just lost power.

“It just got really windy,” Woods said. “We heard this huge crack and we ran out in the backyard and saw this 80-foot pine just snapped off and it fell on my shed,” Woods said.

Woods said he expects his insurance claim to be between $5,000 and $7,000.

A few months ago, another strong gust of wind knocked over two pines in his yard and he ended up taking down five. But he left the one near the shed standing.

“I don’t have that many trees in my yard,” Woods said. “I liked the tree, and I thought it gave me some shade over my shed. And that’s the one that got blown over this week.”

The day after Isaias struck the Northeast, Colorado State University’s department of atmospheric sciences intensified its forecast for the Atlantic hurricane season, which typically runs June 1 through Nov. 30. The season’s height is usually mid-August through October.

The university now predicts 24 named storms, up from 20 forecast in July; 12 hurricanes, an increase from nine in July; and five major hurricanes, up from four in July.

In a typical year, there are 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. In 2005, the year Katrina hit, there were 28 named storms, 15 hurricanes and seven major hurricanes.

“We have already seen five named storms make landfall this season in the U.S., including two Category 1 hurricanes in less than two weeks, both causing widespread property damage,” Sean Kevelighan, chief executive of the Insurance Information Institute, said.

Katrina, in 2005, racked up the highest amount of claims at $41.1 billion, according to the institute. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy brought nearly $19 billion in claims, including $500 million in Connecticut, the institute said.

Property casualty insurers are navigating the hurricane season even as a pandemic is gripping most of the country. At Travelers Cos., the property-casualty insurer, which has major operations in the Hartford area, said it is leveraging technology to adhere to public health guidelines adopted by state and federal authorities.

Jim Wucherpfennig, a vice president of property claim at Travelers, said the use of drones allows an adjuster to stand far apart from a property owner when inspecting damage.

“That’s a key part of social distancing and inspecting damages particularly in the kind of event that we just had,” Wucherpfennig said. “Trees are down; lines are down. It might not be safe to put a ladder on a roof, so we will fly a drone up.”

Mobile apps also can help property owners create 3D models of damage by taking a series of photos from different angles, giving adjusters a head start on their evaluations.

“We’re at the property less amount of time,” Wucherpfennig said.

The pandemic also has required Travelers, which insures properties all over the country, to navigate public health requirements that can vary from state to state. Those include interstate travel restrictions, testing requirements and quarantines.

Wucherpfennig said Travelers does not disclose claims totals — except as referenced on quarterly earnings filings — and the insurer has not yet made an analysis how Isaias compares to other similar storms.

But in Connecticut, three-quarters of claims so far are related to damage caused by wind, followed by 15 percent tied to water, with those largely concentrated in the western portion of the state, where there was more rainfall, Wucherpfennig said.

“The wind was the big peril here,” Wucherpfennig said.

Story by Kenneth R. Gosselin

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