Tornado insurance resources + what you need to know
- Homeowners insurance
- Crisis management
- Planning ahead
- VIU resources
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that 1,200 tornados hit the United States every year. Fast, furious and indiscriminate, these catastrophic storms can cause irreparable damage in a matter of minutes – killing and injuring many in the U.S. and accounting for approximately $2.53 billion worth of damage across the United States in 2020 alone.
“During a tornado, people face hazards from extremely high winds and risk being struck by flying and falling objects,” warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “After a tornado, the damage left behind poses additional injury risks.
“Although nothing can be done to prevent tornadoes, there are actions you can take to protect your health and safety.” If you live in an area that has a history of tornadoes, it’s important to have the right insurance coverage, as well as a safety plan in place allowing you to take immediate action when a tornado watch or warning is issued.
Minimize risk, insure prized possessions and protect yourself and your family
1. Know what you’re up against
Tornadoes are capable of uprooting trees, destroying well-made structures, hurling objects through the air and causing other life-threatening damage. Listen to local news and check the forecast regularly to be alert to any warnings, and know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning:
- A tornado watch indicates the possibility of thunderstorms producing a tornado. This is a time to review your safety plans (outlined below) and prepare emergency supplies.
- A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been sighted live or by weather radar. When this occurs, seek shelter immediately.
Signs that a tornado may be approaching include a rotating funnel-shaped cloud, a cloud of debris, dark or green-colored sky, large hail and dark, low-lying clouds accompanied by a loud roar that sounds like a freight train.
To truly understand what tornadoes are capable of, take a look at the Enhanced Fujita Scale below. The National Weather Service uses these guidelines to categorize tornadoes and estimate potential property damage:
Zero (Weak) | 65-85 mph winds | Light damage: Some damage to chimneys; branches broken off trees, shallow-rooted trees uprooted, sign boards damaged.
One (Weak) | 86-110 mph winds | Moderate damage: Some damage to chimneys; branches broken off trees, shallow-rooted trees uprooted, sign boards damaged.
Two (Strong) | 111-135 mph winds | Considerable damage: Roofs torn from frame houses; mobile homes demolished; boxcars pushed over; large trees snapped or uprooted; light objects become projectiles.
Three (Strong) | 136-165 mph winds | Severe damage: Roofs and some walls torn from well- constructed houses; trains overturned; most trees in forested areas uprooted; heavy cars lifted and thrown.
Four (Violent) | 166-200 mph winds | Devastating damage: Well-constructed houses leveled; structures with weak foundations blown some distance; cars thrown; large missiles generated.
Five (Violent) | 200 mph or higher winds | Incredible damage: Strong frame houses lifted off foundations, carried considerable distances, and disintegrated; auto-sized missiles airborne for several hundred feet or more; trees debarked.
2. Make sure your insurance policy includes coverage against wind and hail
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to the best type of homeowners policy for tornado damage. Policies usually cover tornado damage, but you might not be covered for wind or hail, which often accompanies tornadoes.
Carefully review your policy with the VIU by HUB Advisory Team and find out if wind is a covered peril under your insurance. Standard policies generally cover windstorm damage directly caused by wind or hail, but there are two additional kinds of wind damage deductibles:
- Hurricane deductibles, which apply to damage solely from hurricanes
- Windstorm or wind/hail deductibles, which apply to any kind of wind damage
If Windstorm Coverage is excluded in your policy, check with our advisory team to determine whether coverage is available through the state wind pool or an excess surplus lines market. Most insurance policies for properties in coastal areas have a special windstorm-hurricane deductible, for instance, which is generally based on a percentage of the dwelling limit.
Try to stay on top of any special deductibles for losses caused by wind and make necessary adjustments like raising the limits so that you’ll be protected if your home is severely impacted. Also consider that damage caused by flooding that can result from tornadoes isn’t typically covered, so you should also consider purchasing a separate flood insurance policy.
3. Prepare your home and your family as best you can
Your safety and that of your family is always the most important thing, but that doesn’t mean you want to leave your house unprotected. With some time and planning, there are certain precautions you can take to minimize risk of damage to your home.
Be sure to bring in any patio furniture or exterior items like grills, playsets and the like. Depending on the intensity of the tornado, tacking down loose roofing and trimming dead or weak branches from trees will help to protect your house. Trimming your trees has benefits beyond your roof and can help to keep your home’s frame safe as well. These are things your insurance company likes to see and beyond protecting your house in a tornado, they can even help your insurance premiums.
The National Weather Service recommends designating a safe room in your home and having it reinforced when possible. You can find plans for reinforcing an interior room to provide better protection on the Federal Emergency Management Agency website. Natural disaster relief experts also suggest keeping the following emergency supplies in your safe space:
- Flashlight and spare batteries
- Charged fire extinguisher
- Energy-dense foods such as trail mix, granola bars, dried fruit, etc.
- First aid kit
4. Have a safety plan in place for what to do when a tornado strikes
The National Weather Service “StormReady” program can help you prepare — before, during and after a tornado. Flying debris causes the majority of tornado-related deaths and injuries. Keep yourself and your family safe from this danger by having a plan in place for where to meet for immediate shelter.
A basement, storm shelter or a lower interior room without windows is the safest choice — shelter in this kind of space as soon as your area gets a tornado warning. Many casualties result from staying in a mobile home, so if you live in one, relocate to an alternative spot such as a nearby building with a basement. Try to place an emergency kit in the designated room ahead of time.
Running practice drills with your family is a good way to ensure everyone knows how to respond in the event of a tornado. And, when at all possible, don’t forget about your pets.
If you happen to be in a vehicle during a tornado, seek shelter as soon as possible. “The best course of action is to drive to the closest shelter,” advises The National Weather Service. “If you are unable to make it to a safe shelter, either get down in your car and cover your head or abandon your car and seek shelter in a low-lying area such as a ditch or ravine.”
5. Be careful when dealing with the aftermath
The National Weather Service warns that “multiple rounds of thunderstorms capable of producing tornadoes are possible during severe weather outbreaks.” Stay tuned to local news while you take shelter, if possible, to get continuing updates on how the weather evolves.
When the coast is clear, take the following steps:
- Contact your family and loved ones – Let your family and close friends know that you're okay so they can help spread the word. Text messages or social media are more reliable forms of communication than phone calls.
- Assess the damage – After the threat for tornadoes has ended, check to see if your property has been damaged. When walking through storm damage, wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and sturdy shoes. Contact local authorities if you see power lines down. Stay out of damaged buildings. Be aware of insurance scammers if your property has been damaged.
- Help your neighbor – If you come across people that are injured and you are properly trained, provide first aid to victims if needed until emergency response teams arrive.
Understand what you’re covered for — and where you might need more protection
If you rent your home and you live in a tornado-prone area, protect your personal belongings by purchasing renters insurance. Both homeowners and renters should also consider purchasing Replacement Cost Value (RCV) Insurance, which reimburses you for your lost or damaged items rather than compensating you based on the items’ depreciated value. To best protect your vehicle, obtain a comprehensive auto policy because liability insurance alone will not cover the potential costly auto repairs that could result from a tornado.
Tornadoes shouldn’t be taken lightly, but you can minimize danger and losses by implementing safety procedures for you and your family, in addition to sufficient tornado insurance protection for your home and vehicle. Call our advisory team to make sure you’ve got the right coverage and learn more about our tornado insurance resources.