Does insurance cover an ice shove?

Covering the damage from these incidents can be complicated.

nikki davidson

By 

Nikki Davidson

Nikki Davidson

Contributing Reporter

Nikki Davidson is a contributing writer at Policygenius, where she covers insurance and personal finance news. Her work has also appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Military Families Magazine and local TV stations and newspapers across the country. 

Published April 15, 2022 | 4 min read

Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about our editorial standards and how we make money.

News article image

A 10-foot tall wave of ice recently smothered several lakefront homes in Wisconsin, leaving property owners with an expensive and frosty mess.

The weather phenomenon is called an "ice shove." It happens when chunks of ice surge out of bodies of water and onto land. An ice shove that spans for miles can become a destructive and unstoppable force.

In Wisconsin, the wind pushed chunks of ice from Lake Winnebago up more than 10 feet past the shoreline, and into three homes. The mound of ice burst through one house's doors and windows, spilling onto the furniture and property inside. 

Covering the damage from these incidents can be complicated. Here’s what you need to know.

A slow but unstoppable push

Ice shoves can become as tall as 30 to 40 feet when winds consistently blow at a rate of 25 miles per hour or higher.  [1]

"People are surprised at how strong and how much force there is behind ice shoves," says Phil DeCastro, a meteorologist for WLUK Fox 11 in Green Bay. "You have tons and tons of ice, and it just pushes, and as sturdy as a house might be, dimensional lumber is not going to stop that force." 

Ice shoves occur around the Great Lakes area every winter, and most are harmless, DeCastro says. But, in rare cases, an ice shove creeps onto a lakefront roadway like this one near Lake Erie in 2019, or personal property, like this Minnesota home off Lake Mille Lacs Lake in 2020. 

Unlike other natural disasters, ice shoves don't happen quickly. You'd likely know that your home was in the path of destruction well before the ice mounds appeared at your door.

"You certainly have enough time to dodge it and move the car," says Kurt Kotenberg, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Green Bay. "But, If you don't move your car, then the ice shove is going to win." 

Where and when do ice shoves happen?

Ice shoves typically form in the late winter and early spring months, often in places like the Upper Midwest, where the seasonal temperatures remain low enough to create a solid layer of freeze over bodies of water. 

"If you have a period of three to four really warm days where the temperature is 50 degrees and the ice starts to melt, then it gets cold again, and some of the ice freezes on that — that's how the ice starts to break up," says Kotenberg. "Then you start throwing some wind in there and maybe another warm day; those are typically the conditions that can lead to more of the ice breaking." 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tracks the ice cover on the Great Lakes. At the start of April, there was almost 10% more ice cover than there was for the same period in 2021. [2] The smaller waterways around the Great Lakes region may have even more ice cover. 

"We had a cold January, so that did make a lot of really good, really thick, strong ice on many of our inland lakes," says DeCastro.

While international scientists are tracking the rapid melt of ice shelves in East Antarctica due to unseasonably warm temperatures, it's not clear how global temperature change might affect the occurrence of ice shoves in the Great Lakes region.

"My hunch is that in areas where ice shoves are a significant phenomenon, we're a long way off from seeing any sort of noticeable or significant reduction in their occurrence, at least around here," says DeCastro. "It just gets too cold in the winter to avoid ice formation on bays and inland lakes even in our mildest winters." 

Will homeowners insurance cover ice shove damage? 

Insurance coverage for ice shove damage is complicated, mainly because it falls under two very different kinds of weather damage. 

"Structural damage to your property from ice shoves will typically be covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy," says Mark Friedlander, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute. "It is considered a ‘covered peril’ under the dwelling coverage portion of your policy." 

While homeowners insurance covers damage from the weight and buildup of snow and ice, it won't pay for flood damage. 

"So if the ice shove intrudes your home and melts, causing water damage inside, you would need flood insurance to cover any losses caused by the water," says Friedlander.

Standard insurance also won't pay to remove ice from a property, Friedlander says. 

What can homeowners do to minimize ice shove damage?

Before building on or purchasing lakefront property, you can look up the history of ice shoves on the body of water. If an ice shove has threatened the property in the past, it may even be documented. 

"The buyer would have to check with the county for records on the purchased parcel or structure," Friedlander says. "If it involves the purchase of a specific house or cabin that is already standing, the state's department of insurance may have records showing an ice shove claim was filed on that property in the past." 

If you can't bear to give up your dream of a lakefront cabin in the Midwest, the best thing you can do is keep a watchful eye on the weather. If a massive frozen wave heads your way, time is on your side to move the things you care about most out of the path of destruction.  

Image: Caymia / Getty Images