Here's a scary statistic: In an average year, there are eight hundred tornados reported across the United States. Homes in the path of a tornado are routinely damaged or destroyed by wind, rain and flying debris.
Most homeowners policies cover the repair or rebuilding costs associated with tornado damage, but in certain parts of the country - especially in the Midwest, the northern half of Texas, and coastal Florida - you have to add extra riders or to your insurance policy.
These riders typically include:
- wind coverage - this is sometimes issued by a separate company.
- hail coverage for your roof - tornados generally come with heavy storms and weird temperature inversions, and you'll want to be able to replace your roof. In some places, you can also add hail coverage to your auto insurance.
- flood coverage - again, this is usually provided by a separate flood insurer, and it isn't always required. Rain damage is not the same as flooding from a rising river.
Most homeowners insurance policies include coverage that will pay your living expenses if your home is damaged or destroyed by a tornado and you can't live in it during rebuilding, but it's a good idea to review your policy every year to make sure you have enough coverage to rebuild your home based on current construction costs. In some cases, you may want to talk with both your insurance company and an independent building contractor to get an estimate for coverage planning. This is especially important if you live in an older home, or a custom home.
Reduce the Likelihood of Damage
Just as those who live in areas that are earthquake prone take preventive measure, like bolting their houses onto their foundations, or installing earthquake straps on their water heaters (or even wiring bookshelves to the walls), people who live in places known for tornados can take steps to mitigate potential damage. Some of those steps are:
- Keep your roof in good repair, by fixing any areas that need it, or replacing it as needed (many insurance policies have coverage for roof repair.) When replacing a roof choose materials that are designed to withstand high wind and hail - there's a reason why ceramic tile roofs are rare in Texas.
- Make sure you have double-paned windows, at the very least, and impact-resistant windows if at all possible.
- Ensure that you have secure doors. Door frames should be securely anchored to wall framing, and doors should have at least three hinges. Exterior doors should also have a deadbolt lock with a bolt that's at least an inch long.
- If you have trees in your yard, be sure to keep them pruned. Also, never plant trees close enough to the house that they can fall onto the roof or through a wall.
If You Are in a Tornado's Path:
- If you have enough warning, secure any outdoor furniture, and bring pets inside. A strong tornado can uproot trees or send picnic tables flying across the neighborhood.
- If you have a storm cellar, go there. Otherwise, find an interior room or hallway (a room with no windows) on the lowest floor of your home. Many homes in the southwest have deep closets built under the staircases, which double as storm shelters. In a pinch, you can lie down in the bathtub, as well.
- Keep away from windows and corners, and if there are any old-style televisions or computer monitors that still use tubes, stay away from those as well.
- If you're in your car, find safe shelter, or lie flat in a ditch. Never take cover under a bridge or overpass. Only stay in your car if there is no other shelter.
- Most injuries and fatalities from tornados are caused by flying debris, so make sure you use your arms to protect your head and neck, if necessary.
As much as we'd all love to believe that tornados will merely carry us gently to the Land of Oz - homes and all - the reality is that these are violent, dangerous windstorms. Always keep your insurance updated and in force, and know where to go to wait out a tornado.