Fox News Weather Center

Homeowners may not be covered for El Nino-enhanced storm damage across southwestern, southern US

Despite weakening, El Niño will continue to drive enhanced storms into the United States into spring, leaving homeowners vulnerable to damages that may not be covered by insurance.

Ahead of El Niño influencing the weather, especially in California, more people bought flood insurance policies. About 256,000 policies under the National Flood Insurance Program were in force in California, as of Nov. 30, 2015, -- an 8.5-percent increase from the previous year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.

In early January, mudslides closed the 101 Freeway in Ventura County as mud spewed across the highway from the burn scar left behind by December's Solimar Fire. Drainage systems were unable to handle the flooding deluge, forcing evacuations and partial closures of roads and other major interstates, including I-5.

At the end of the month, storms knocked down trees and caused power outages and flooding in Southern California before moving into the Colorado Rockies.

Flooding can damage cars or other property as well.

"Flood insurance [for property] is available if you live outside a floodplain - provided the community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). More than 22,000 communities currently participate in the NFIP," according to Jeffrey Ill, vice president of product at Esurance.

And it typically takes 30 days for a flood insurance policy to take effect, the National Flood Insurance Program said.

"If a policyholder carries comprehensive coverage on their car insurance, they may be covered for repair or replacement," Ill said.

There are several important things homeowners can do to prepare themselves for El Niño-fueled storms, Ill said. These include stocking up on supplies, patching up their home to prevent leaks and creating a family escape plan.

Calling your homeowners' insurance company to double-check that the proper coverage is in place is also very important, Ill said.

For example, a roof leak may or may not be covered, Ill said.

"But in the event of sudden and unexpected damage (a tree branch damaging your roof as a result of El Niño, for example), it would likely fall under the coverage of most homeowners policies," he said. "Whether or not you are covered also depends on negligence on the part of the homeowner."

But flood insurance doesn't cover landslides and may not cover all flood-related damages, according to The Los Angeles Times.

There really are not any add-ons a customer would need to cover losses that would be more likely during the El Niño-enhanced storm season. Most basic home insurance contracts contain the coverage that a customer would need, Ill said.

"The advice that I generally give: make sure your home is well maintained," Ill said. "Check to make sure that gutters are clear of debris, the roof is in good shape, as well as verifying that the windows and doors properly sealed. The best way to prepare is to make sure your home is ready for the storms. These types of actions help prevent losses and the headaches associated with them."

El Niño is weakening now as expected, but it will continue to enhance any weather systems moving across the United States, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jack Boston said.

"An active southern storm track will continue to bring storminess across the southern U.S. and up along the East Coast," Boston said. "A favored upper ridge in western North America will continue to feed cold air masses south into the central/eastern U.S. through early March."

"With the coastal storm track and cold air available, there can be more opportunities for snow but some systems may be more rain right at the coast," Boston added.

El Niño has brought plenty of precipitation, including heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada of central California and the mountains of northern California.

"In California, abundant precipitation could lead to additional flooding problems," AccuWeather Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok said. "Throughout the winter, the focus for precipitation has been on both northern and central California. While this will continue to be the case into spring, one or two systems are on the radar for Southern California in March."