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1/23/2014 - U.S. locked in deep freeze again

Staying safe and prepared during the winter season can be essential for homeowners.

It's called the Polar Vortex. Though it may sound like the latest creation from the mind of comic book creator Stan Lee, in reality, it's a weather phenomenon that resides far above the earth within the stratosphere. While the effects of it typically impacts northern territory like Greenland and parts of Canada, every now and then, pieces of the low-pressure system break off, sending bitterly cold temperatures toward the U.S., even to parts of the country that typically aren't cold on a regular basis in winter, according to meteorologists.

As a result, the U.S. has been plagued by bitterly cold temperatures. Even in Hawaii - which seldom sees temperatures that call for winter gear - the mercury there didn't rise above 20 degrees Fahrenheit on Jan. 7. In fact, on that same day, every state within the U.S. experienced temperatures that were below the freezing point, according to The Associated Press.

The cold weather snap has led to many people trying to make the most of Mother Nature's latest surprise. Internet users have no doubt seen video clips of people tossing steaming hot water into the air, only to see it freeze immediately upon making contact with the near negative air and wind chill temperatures.

But the deep freeze is more than something that's uncomfortable to deal with - it can lead to severe damage experienced by home and businessowners that carry property insurance implications.

"Severe winter weather is the third-largest cause of insured catastrophe losses, after hurricanes and tornadoes," said Dr. Robert Hartwig, an economist and president of trade association the Insurance Information Institute. "Winter storm claims, including those associated with freezing and ice damage, accounted for 7.1% all insured catastrophe losses between 1993 and 2012, placing it third behind hurricanes and tropical storms and tornadoes as the costliest natural disaster."

Insurance covers many cold-caused damage issues
With this in mind, the Insurance Information Institute has released some tips for what consumers should be mindful of as cold sweeps the country, as it relates to their various coverage plans.

For example, one of the biggest property risks during lengthy periods of cold are burst pipes, which can explode for a business or homeowners if their water freezes up. The III noted that as a general rule, policyholders are covered in these situations. However, they have to go to lengths that reduce the risk of pipes freezing by performing some routine maintenance.

Something else to be mindful of is the structure of a residence when in an environment that is densely populated with trees. The lower temperatures go, the more risk there is for branches to snap off due to them becoming brittle. Homeowners insurance typically provides coverage for situations in which a residence is damaged due to fallen debris. Additionally, the III pointed out that policies may even cover the cost of having a tree removed, up to a certain coverage limit.

One of the more significant safety issues stemming from frigid conditions relate to driving, as black ice and treacherous back streets can lead to minor fender benders or more serious crashes. The III indicated that liability coverage protects policyholders in the event they're at fault and another motorist is either hurt or their vehicle is damaged. And with a comprehensive auto insurance plan, drivers can often be compensated in the event something lands on their vehicle, such as a heavy branch that breaks from above or icicles falling from rooftops.

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