Those traveling anywhere around the U.S. East Coast this weekend will most likely be sitting tight as Category 3 Hurricane Irene barrels her way up the Atlantic. For those who bought travel insurance, you'll need to know what your policy covers to get the most out of your plan.

Travel insurance covers unforeseen circumstances, or situations that arise due to sudden, unanticipated conditions or events. If you are involved in a car crash, injure yourself, lose your luggage during your trip, become ill, or are delayed and miss your connection, or, in this case, you run into a hurricane (and all the travel casualties that come with it), you'll be happy you had travel insurance.

The U.S. National Weather Service Hurricane Center is asking potential travelers with insurance to re-examine their coverage in preparation for the storm. If your trip is cancelled, cut short or you need to return home early because your home or property has suffered damage from the storm, most travel insurance policies will reimburse your claim for lost travel expenses.

Unfortunately, travelers without insurance cannot run out and buy it today if you are traveling during the storm. In order for insurance to be valid against a hurricane or other bad weather, a policy must be purchased no later than the day before a tropical storm or hurricane is identified and named by the U.S. National Weather Service. After the storm has been recognized, it is no longer unforeseen and travelers cannot purchase insurance for it.

Even when you do have proper insurance, there are stipulations that must be met for your cancelled or interrupted trip to be covered. Most basic policies cover:

  •  Weather causes complete cessation of common carrier services for at least 24 consecutive hours.
  •  The traveler's primary residence is made uninhabitable by hurricane, flood or other natural disaster.
  •  The destination accommodations are made uninhabitable by hurricane, flood or other natural disaster.

If your trip is cancelled for a covered reason, companies will refund the prepaid, forfeited, non-refundable trip costs up to the limit of coverage.

If you have purchased a more advanced plan, like Travel Insured's Worldwide Trip Protector plan and Worldwide Trip Protector Gold plan, you can receive additional trip interruption coverage if:

  •  Mandatory evacuation is ordered by local authorities in the destination due to a natural disaster or hurricane. There must be 50 percent or less of the total trip length remaining after the evacuation ends for Trip Cancellation coverage to apply.
  •  When the insured's arrival at the destination is delayed and causes the loss of 50 percent or more of the scheduled trip duration due to reasons covered by the Trip Delay benefit (described below).

You can receive trip delay coverage if:

  •  A weather-caused delay of the insured's common carrier occurs for either six or more hours, or for 12 or more hours, depending upon the specific plan selected.
  • Your airport is closed due to severe weather or high winds.
  •  A delay is caused by a documented traffic accident (such a flooding or a fallen tree) when the insured or his or her travel companion was en route to a departure, whether they are directly or not directly involved.

If severe weather conditions cause you to miss a connecting flight that can affect the rest of your trip or cruise, most plans have missed connection coverage. If a common carrier delay of three or more hours due to weather causes the insured traveler to miss his or her cruise or tour departure, then you will be covered. Depending on your plan, you can be reimbursed for costs to rejoin the trip as well as meal and accommodation expenses, and non-refundable payments for the unused portion of the trip or cruise.

If the storm directly affects your travel plans, you are entitled to a refund. But, if you are worried that the predicted storm path will be too close for your liking, you can choose to cancel a trip based on what you think might happen, and not what actually does. It is your choice and will not be covered by standard travel insurance.

Travelers with Cancel for Any Reason travel insurance do have the luxury of postponing or canceling a trip based on hurricane threats, warnings or general uneasiness about traveling during the storm. Those with Cancel for Any Reason insurance can cancel flights or trips even when carriers and hotels are operating normally.  This may be a good insurance to purchase for uneasy travelers or those traveling with families as it covers many circumstances that regular travel insurance does not.

If you are still unsure if you will be covered this weekend, or anytime in the future, check with your specific travel insurance company for details about your trip and your policy.

If you don't have travel insurance and are a frequent traveler, consider purchasing a plan to save the most the next time unforeseen circumstances arise.