Progressive offers new severe weather text alerts

If you’ve ever been caught driving in a hailstorm, you know that sinking feeling. It can sound like hailstones are denting every inch of your car.

It’s estimated that severe hail damage costs policyholders and insurers more than $1 billion in damages every year.

So imagine if you had a tool to help you steer clear of a severe weather? That’s the goal of Progressive Insurance and Weather Central, a Madison, Wis.-based forecasting and weather alert company. They’re teaming up to offer drivers a localized advanced warning system for hail and other storms.

Drivers can sign up for alerts by filling in their email address and a password at .

They can personalize locations of interest such as their home, office or child’s school and receive automatic alerts via text message up to 30 minutes before a storm. That provides time to seek shelter from hailstorms, high winds, or other severe weather and park vehicles in a garage or under cover.

The service also delivers National Weather Service watches and warnings.

“We set out to provide Progressive with life- and money-saving information that comes right to consumers when they need it most,” said Steve Smedberg, a senior vice president at Weather Central, a Madison, Wis.-based company.

The weather alerts are powered by a system Weather Central says is precise to around a half-mile-wide area, allowing the warnings to be tailored to a specific neighborhood area.

Insurance loss figures for this year are staggering. Tornadoes, hail, flooding and other natural disasters have made 2011 the worst year for losses on record globally.

In the United States, the first half of the year brought losses exceeding $16 billion, says the Insurance Information Institute. That’s far above the typical first 6-months average of $6.4 billion.