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Pre-Christmas storm lightly dusts insurers


DENVER—While the blizzard that blanketed parts of Colorado right before Christmas may have put a damper on people's holiday plans, it did not result in much insured damage, according to initial reports.

But a similar storm late last week that dumped more than two feet of snow over much of the already snow-covered Denver area may change that.

More than 30 inches of snow fell in the Colorado mountains and up to two feet in the areas surrounding Denver--closing highways, schools and businesses just days before Christmas. Denver International Airport, the nation's fifth-busiest airport, was closed to all flights for 45 hours, leaving thousands of stranded passengers.

Despite the inconvenience, though, there were few reports of insured damages.

"It doesn't appear at the outset anything close to what we had in March 2003," said Carole Walker, executive director of the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Assn., referring to the costliest blizzard on record in the state.

The spring blizzard, which dumped seven feet of wet, heavy snow in the mountains and nearly 32 inches in Denver over a three-day period in March 2003, resulted in insured losses of more than $93.3 million from 28,000 claims filed, according to the RMIIA.

From late last month's storm, "at this point, even from the large carriers, we're only seeing several hundred claims, which doesn't amount to large insured damages," Ms. Walker said. Most of the claims are from homeowners and renters, and the majority are coming from the Denver metro area and Colorado Springs, she said. Claims range from leaking roofs to frozen and burst pipes to cars sliding into homeowners' garages.

While it will obviously result in millions of dollars of losses, it doesn't look like it will reach the $25 million threshold, which is the Insurance Services Office cutoff for a catastrophe, Ms. Walker said. However, "that could change as we move into the next storm," she noted.

"I haven't had one phone call yet: not from parks, not from libraries, not from DIA. I haven't had a call from anyone yet about damage at this point," said Ray Sibley, director of risk management for the city and county of Denver.

"That doesn't mean we haven't had a couple of things happen and they haven't bothered to call me yet, but at this point, it doesn't look like it's going to be bad from a damage standpoint," he said. Mr. Sibley noted that the 2003 blizzard resulted in close to $1.5 million in damage citywide.

Total damage from the 2003 blizzard was much higher, as the RMIAA figure excluded large commercial building losses. The lion's share of the damage came from collapsed roofs, porches, awnings, carports and outbuildings, RMIIA said.

By comparison, Colorado's most costly catastrophe was a July 1990 hailstorm that caused $625 million in insured damage, RMIIA said.