Home owners across Australia are being warned to be ready to face the problems that this summer’s La Nina is likely to cause, and to make sure their insurance is up to date to cover any damage.
For after exceedingly hot and dry weather since 2017, the higher rainfall of the La Nina cycle – caused by warming ocean temperatures in the Western Pacific Ocean and stronger trade winds – means a dramatic change until the end of the first quarter of 2021.
And while it’s likely to bring a welcome relief from the danger of bushfires, especially after the calamities of 2019 and early 2020, there could be a host of other difficulties.
“This summer, particularly for NSW, Victoria and Queensland, there are high odds of higher-than-average rainfall and we are concerned about an increased risk of flooding,” said climatologist Andrew Watkins, head of operational climate services at the Bureau of Meteorology.
“There’s also a greater risk of flash flooding in past bushfire areas because they don’t have the growth to slow the water down. That can bring the threat of erosion and land slips, particularly in hilly areas.
“There’s slightly more risk of thunderstorms and hail in some areas and more chance of severe storms in northern Queensland. We may have more tropical cyclones which can suck the water up to an extra height, and then cause a lot of damage on the coastline.”
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. While the days may be wetter, they’ll also be cooler, although nights might be uncomfortably sticky and humid.
Extreme heatwaves will be less likely, but warm periods could well be longer and the extra moisture in the air might see more mould developing indoors.
The really good news is that experts don’t think we’ll be seeing bushfires of the same severity as the past two years, either.
“But in areas where we’ve had spring rainfall, the grass has been growing gangbusters and we’re getting a little nervous of the risk of grass fires,” said Watkins. “That might affect houses that back on to large paddocks of nature areas.”
The Victoria County Fire Authority has already issued warnings, telling people who live next to grassland that if a grass fire occurs, they should walk two blocks away rather than jump in a car and risk getting caught in a traffic jam.
Home owners should also keep a wary eye on their foundations.
The Commonwealth Bank, with home-lending making up nearly half of its balance sheet, warns that when the weather is hot and dry, soil contraction can occur that causes cracking of the earth beneath buildings.
Now, with the wetter weather on the way, that could mean the soil expands again, which could cause problems.
“Everyone has got to make sure they have their home cover insurance in place, and their landlord insurance if they’re renting out a property,” said Shaun Carney, principal of 44 Home Property Management.
“People are getting anxious, particularly in areas prone to flooding, but the biggest thing is preparation. Everyone should make sure they have a storm plan and have a walk around your property – and look at neighbours’ properties – to look at drain pipes and anything lying around that could cause damage.”
Among the areas most at risk, says Campbell Fuller, a spokesperson with Insurance Council Australia, is northern Queensland because of its exposure to tropical cyclones – with people from this region five times more likely to lodge a claim than anyone anywhere else in Australia.
Also at particular risk are the east coast, southern NSW and northern Victoria, the Northern Rivers region and flood-prone coastal areas.
Older free-standing houses and older strata buildings are both considered the most vulnerable to adverse weather events.
“Insurers are aware of the forecasts and keep an eye on the CSIRO and weather bureau and other services and put in place their measures to deal with it,” said Fuller.
“They look at prudential requirements – whether they need to reinsure – and the logistics they need to put in place. It’s part of the normal disaster season preparation.”
At this stage, however, it’s hard to say whether they’ll increase premiums in advance of any La Nina catastrophes, or even afterwards.
“Insurers are constantly looking at their premiums and risk and working out how they might need to adjust,” he said. “Whether they raise or lower premiums would be up to local insurers to determine according to their own commercial measures and their risk appetite.”
But the most important thing to bear in mind is keeping up with the dangers. “So keep your eye on warnings from the Bureau of Meteorology, which are issued on Twitter and many other platforms,” said Watkins. “And tune into ABC radio.”