The United States recorded $226.56 million of property damages in 2021 due to tornadoes. In addition to property damage, tornadoes can also cause injuries and fatalities. As of September 2022, there have already been 1,058 tornadoes and 18 deaths. Although all states may experience tornadoes, Texas is the most at-risk.
Tornadoes are natural disasters, which means they aren’t preventable. But mitigating the risks is possible with preparedness. This includes evaluating the risks, taking preventive actions, safeguarding your property and having the right home insurance coverage.
Tornadoes may happen anytime but occur more often during the tornado season. This varies depending on the location. According to the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, it’s usually from May to early June for states in the Southern Plains, while those on the Gulf Coast experience the tornado season in spring. Meanwhile, the tornado season in the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest is in June or July.
Tornadoes form from thunderstorms. The extreme rotation of air creates a funnel extending to the ground. As it moves, it picks up dust, debris and/or water droplets. In severe cases, a tornado can cause property damage and fatalities.
As a homeowner, it’s important to assess your risk. Knowing what you can expect can help keep your home and family safe.
In a 1952 research project, Captain Robert Miller and Major Ernest Fawbush coined the term Tornado Alley referencing an area in the central U.S. that experiences frequent tornadoes. Although there’s no clear definition of the boundaries of Tornado Alley, it includes the Great Plains — Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas. In some cases, other states are included as part of the Tornado Alley region.
The number of tornadoes experienced per state may vary every year. Texas recorded the highest number of tornadoes in 2021 at 118, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). Completing the top 10 are Alabama (100), Mississippi (92), Illinois (80), Iowa (70), Tennessee (66), Georgia (57), Kentucky (57), Nebraska (53), Louisiana (50), Missouri (50) and Colorado (48).
Staying Alert Before the Storm Strikes
Although it’s impossible to stop a tornado from happening, you can help mitigate the risks and ensure your family’s safety by being prepared. Staying alert, understanding the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning, taking extra precautions and knowing the signs to look for before the storm strikes can make a lot of difference.
Weather Signs to Watch For
Changing weather conditions and alerts can warn you of an impending tornado. Keeping an eye out for announcements from authorities, especially if you live in a tornado-prone area, can also help you prepare.
Whether you live in the Great Plains or not, knowing the signs of a tornado is essential. Here are five things you should check:
- Cloud shape: One of the surest ways to tell if there’s a coming tornado is the shape of a cloud. Generally, a funnel-shaped cloud that’s rotating means bad news.
- Sky color: The color of the sky can say a lot about the weather. A tornado will likely occur if you see dark clouds or the sky is blackish-green in color.
- Roaring sound: If you hear a loud continuous sound, similar to a freight train, it may be a tornado blast. It’s also often accompanied by in-cloud lightning and strong winds.
- Debris: A tornado may not always be visible as it’s mainly composed of air. However, the strong winds may lift and take objects as the tornado moves. This creates a debris cloud, which can easily be spotted even from far away.
- Sudden stillness: A tornado is about to strike if it’s suddenly calm and quiet a few minutes after strong winds and heavy rains. Stay indoors and go to the safest room in your home.
Tornado Watch vs. Tornado Warning
Local National Weather Service offices and the Storm Prediction Center monitor weather conditions and alert the public of possible tornado occurrences. Generally, you should be aware of two types of tornado alerts: a tornado watch and a tornado warning.
The table below details the main difference between the two and discusses what homeowners should expect and do depending on the type of alert.
Learn the Difference
A tornado watch means a potential tornado may form within the next few hours in the area. This alert typically applies to a larger area, such as multiple counties, cities or states.
- Homeowners should check supplies, including emergency kits, flashlights, batteries and water.
- Determine where the members of your household are, including your pets.
- Check the safest place where you and your loved ones can stay in the event of a tornado.
- Monitor the news and check for weather updates.
- Stay indoors and keep your windows closed.
A tornado warning is an alert informing the public that a tornado has been detected. This alert usually covers a small area, such as a county or a particular part of a city.
- A tornado warning indicates imminent danger, so seek shelter immediately.
- Stay away from windows and doors.
- If you’re outside, find a place where you can stay. Make sure you’re well-protected against possible falling debris.
- Monitor official weather updates.
- If you’re at home, gather your emergency supplies and move to the safest area on your property.
Tornado Prevention & Safety Tips
Knowing what to expect when a tornado hits can help. Still, preparedness is your best protection against possible risks. Homeowners should have a household emergency plan everyone understands. Additionally, you should learn ways to stay safe before, during and after a tornado.
What Homeowners Can Do to Prepare for a Tornado
Having a safety plan and taking specific steps can help you prepare for a tornado. Below are some tips that may help homeowners protect their households.
Assess your risk
Determine your tornado risk level. You can start by visiting the National Risk Index map and selecting your state or county to see hazard risks and levels in your area. Consider signing up for weather alerts from local organizations, such as news stations.
Create a tornado emergency plan
Know what to do when a tornado strikes. Find the safest room on your property. If you don’t have a basement, consider creating a storm shelter. List necessities to include in your emergency kits, such as batteries, chargers, hygiene items, blankets, matches, flashlights, change of clothes, a first aid kit with necessary medications, dust masks, blankets, water and non-perishable food. If you have pets, include pet food and extra water.
Practice the plan before the storm
All household members should be aware of the emergency plan. It helps you and your family to practice your emergency plan at least once a year. This helps ensure you know where to go, what to do and what to bring during a tornado.
Write down important information
Make sure you have a list of important information, such as emergency contact numbers. Include information about family and friends that can be contacted in an emergency. List medications if you or your loved ones are taking prescription medications.
Store essential documents in a safe place
Put your birth certificates, passports, insurance documents and Social Security cards in an accessible but safe place. Having an updated inventory of all your belongings is also a good idea.
Identify shelter areas
Aside from your safe room, you should also determine other possible shelter areas. For instance, you should know where to go if you’re at work during a tornado. You should also identify where you and your family would meet after a disaster.
Extra Precautions for Family Members With Disabilities
Your emergency plan should incorporate your family’s circumstances. For instance, a senior citizen or a person with a disability may have different needs. Take these into consideration when creating your plan.
Addressing the needs of a family member with a disability should also be a priority when preparing for a tornado. Here are some tips you may find helpful:
- List important information: Create a document of specific needs, limitations, capabilities and medications. If there is mobility or medical equipment, store backups. It’ll also help to have a medical alert system that they can use to call if they’re immobilized during a tornado.
- Find someone who’ll agree to assist you when a tornado strikes: Have a designated person, such as a family or friend, who can assist and accommodate you during an emergency. Save their contact information and add them to your list as well.
- Learn ways to stay alert and informed: Know the best way to keep your family member informed before, during and after a disaster. For instance, install a special warning system that can catch the attention of your family member even if they’re visually impaired or hard of hearing. Downloading an alerts application can also help.
Fortifying Your Home on a Budget
Your home may be one of your most significant investments. Protecting it against disaster and possible dangers is essential.
With thousands of tornadoes affecting the country every year, fortifying your home and ensuring its integrity against strong winds and falling debris can prevent it from getting severe tornado damage.
Below are some extra steps you can take to keep your home and family safe during a disaster without spending too much.
Create a safe room
Choose a room that has no windows or is far away from the windows. It will also help if it’s on the lowest level of your home. Many use their basements as safe rooms, but a large closet and bathroom can work. Store your emergency kit in the safe room.
Ensure that your roof is windproof
Your roof serves as your first line of defense against outdoor dangers. So, it’s important to prevent it from flying off. Inspect your roof and see if it needs reinforcement. Consult a professional and ask them what’s the best affordable option to make your roof windproof.
Install extra protection to windows and doors
Secure all entry points. Install extra protection to prevent windows and doors from blowing off or shattering during a tornado. It can be as simple as installing storm shutters to windows and bracing garage doors. If you’re willing to spend some money, changing into impact-resistant windows is a good idea.
Secure furniture and appliances
Large furniture and appliances may topple over due to strong winds. Consider attaching anchors or securing them to the wall.
Remove or store possible outdoor hazards
Clean your yard or lawn. Remove anything that can be considered outdoor hazards like lawn chairs, potted plants, empty planters and downed tree limbs.
Check your utilities
Tornadoes can cause gas leaks and fires. Locate switches for your utilities. Determine a route to help you quickly shut your utilities off if necessary.
Navigating Homeowners Insurance After Tornado Damages
Homeowners insurance protects you against huge expenses in the event of a covered incident. Depending on the type of coverage, you may get comprehensive protection.
Standard homeowners insurance policies typically include dwelling coverage, which covers expenses related to repairing or rebuilding your home after a tornado. Some may also include repairing or replacement of personal property inside your home. Consider your specific needs and compare available options to find the best homeowners insurance.
6 Tornado-Related Damages That Homeowner Insurance Covers
Typically, standard homeowners insurance covers tornado damage to your personal belongings and home. However, you may need additional hazard insurance or endorsements for some types of coverage, such as flood damage.
- DamageCovered with homeowner insurance?What it covers
Standard home insurance policies offer some type of
dwelling coverage. This covers structural damage to
your home or other attached structures, including
garages and decks.
This coverage pays for damaged personal belongings. You
may get a replacement cost depending on the insurance
provider and policy. Others only pay for the actual
cost, which considers depreciation.
Loss of use
Depending on the extent of tornado damage, you may not
be able to live in your home. In such a case, the loss
of use coverage will pay for your temporary housing
needs and other living expenses.
Wind and hail
Standard home insurance policies usually include
certain perils related to tornadoes. These include wind
Personal liability coverage is also part of homeowners
insurance. This coverage pays for expenses incurred by
an injured party visiting your property. It also pays
for possible legal costs.
For some families, a standard homeowners insurance policy is enough. However, you may want to purchase additional coverage for more comprehensive protection. Here are some endorsements you may consider:
- Extended replacement: This endorsement provides additional financial protection in the event of severe tornado damage. For an extra cost, policyholders can increase their replacement cost by a certain percentage. This will pay for the amount exceeding the dwelling coverage limit of the insurance policy.
- Guaranteed replacement: A guaranteed replacement endorsement will ensure that the exact cost of rebuilding your home to its previous specifications is covered.
- Wind coverage: Typically, standard homeowners insurance policies cover wind damage. However, some providers may not automatically add this coverage. Some areas may also require separate windstorm insurance. Check this with your insurance provider to ensure you have the right protection.
Should You Upgrade Your Policy?
Before purchasing a homeowners insurance policy, make sure you have considered all of your needs and circumstances. If you already have a policy, review the coverages and see if there are endorsements you may need to add.
For instance, standard policies pay for your home’s actual cash value. Depreciation is considered when calculating your claim payout. If you’re living in a tornado-prone area, upgrade your policy to cover your property at replacement cost.
You may also purchase a separate flood insurance policy if you’re worried about flood damage.
How to Stay Safe During a Tornado
Tornadoes can be frightening and may cause panic. Safeguarding your home and having a solid emergency plan can help you avoid being overwhelmed. However, a tornado may strike even when you’re not at home. Here are some things you need to do during a tornado, depending on your situation.
If you’re at home
Follow your emergency plan. Guide your household members to your designated safe room. Contact those who aren’t home and check if they’re safe. Continue monitoring tornado alerts and listen to local news.
If you’re in an apartment building, gym, theater or mall
Go to the lowest level of the building. If the basement is accessible, move there. Try to stay away from windows and glass doors. If you don’t have enough time to go to a lower level, look for a place where you can take cover. Make sure you protect your head.
If you’re driving
Find the closest shelter. If you can’t reach a safer area, get down in your vehicle and cover your head. Protect your neck as well. If possible, leave your vehicle and find a low-lying area.
If you’re at work or school
Follow the tornado drill implemented by your office or school. Stay away from windows and doors.
If you’re outside
Find a nearby shelter. If there are none, look for a low-lying area where you can seek shelter temporarily. Avoid places with many trees as these may fall. For instance, you can lie flat in a ditch. Use an object or your arm to keep your head and neck protected.
5 Steps to Take After a Tornado
Tornadoes can cause severe damage. Even if the disaster has passed, it’s important to remain vigilant. Be wary of potential hazards. Try to stay calm, as panicking won’t help.
Here are five steps homeowners need to take after a tornado to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
Stay alert and informed with local news
Check weather alerts from local government agencies. Monitor news from your local radio or TV stations, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) radio station or online news sites.
Contact your loved ones
Let your loved ones know that you’re okay. Ask them about their situation as well. You can use social media, messaging apps or SMS to inform them of your whereabouts.
Check for injuries
Check yourself and your loved ones for injuries. Apply first aid if necessary. Get help if emergency assistance is necessary.
Assess the damage
Once you’re 100% sure that it’s safe to leave your shelter, start assessing damages to your property. Check the windows, doors, roof and overall structure of your house. Watch out for falling debris.
File for the insurance claim
If your home suffers from damages, contact your homeowners insurance provider. Let them know that you’ll be filing a claim. Clarify the requirements and process.
How to File Insurance Claims After Tornado Damages
Having the right home insurance coverage can help you recover after a disaster. Know how to properly file a claim to avoid mistakes that may cost you.
Below are some of the first steps you need to take to help you get started with the insurance claim process.
Contact your insurance provider
Ask your insurance provider about the claims process. Clarify all requirements you need to prepare. Some insurers may send out mobile units where policyholders can start processing their insurance claims.
Take a home inventory
Document damages to your property. Take photos and videos. These can help back up your insurance claim.
Check loss of use coverage
If your home is uninhabitable, check if your home insurance covers loss of use expenses. This will cover temporary housing and other expenses.
Proceed with the claims process
Fill out the claims form and submit it to your insurer. Do this as soon as possible to prevent delays. The insurance company may send an adjuster to inspect the extent of property damage. Prepare for this visit and show them all damages you’ve found. It would help to have a list of all damaged items ready.
Begin with small repairs if necessary
If you need to make small repairs to prevent further damage and ensure your safety, document your progress and save all receipts.
Expert Insight on Tornado Preparedness
Learning how to keep your family and home safe before, during and after a tornado can be overwhelming. MoneyGeek asked some industry experts to share tips and insights with homeowners.
- How can homeowners best protect their homes against tornadoes?
- What money-saving tips can you share with homeowners who want to tornado-proof their homes?
- What resources and tools do you think are beneficial in protecting one’s home from tornadoes?
- What programs (government and nonprofit) can you recommend to homeowners needing help after a tornado?
Founder & CEO of Watson Buys
Founder and CEO of Austin Real Estate Brokerage
Owner & CEO of Denver Home Buyer
Resources for Tornado Safety
Knowing where to gather information and support can better prepare you against potential risks. Below is a list of resources on tornado preparedness, insurance and assistance.
Resources and Tools
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Learn about the different health and safety hazards following a tornado. Find out how to effectively remove post-disaster debris from your home.
- Ready.gov: Prepare for disasters with the help of safety tips on this government public service campaign website.
- SCORE: Use SCORE’s tornado preparedness checklist to see if you’re ready for the storm and download helpful tips.
- Am I Covered?: Check the III’s brochure answering the most common questions consumers ask about homeowners insurance and its coverage.
- National Association of Insurance Commissioners: Find helpful information about homeowners insurance, the different types of coverage and how insurance coverage works.
- United Policyholders: Be informed about various insurance products across the country. Learn about insurance claims and how you can recover after a disaster.
Financial Assistance and Support
- American Red Cross: Get tips on how to stay safe during and after a tornado, check the safety of your home and how you can recover financially and emotionally. You can also find an open shelter or get help reconnecting with family after a disaster.
- Benefits.gov: Find different benefits available, including disaster relief, healthcare and medicine assistance, financial assistance and loans.
- DisasterAssistance.gov: Enter your address and see available aid in your area after a disaster. Use the website to apply online and monitor the status of your application.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency: Browse through this government website to see various disaster assistance programs available to homeowners.
- U.S. Department of Labor: Check recovery assistance programs supported by the Department of Labor and find out how you can apply.
About Nathan Paulus
- Insurance Information Institute. "Top 10 States, By Number of Tornadoes, 2021." Accessed September 12, 2022.
- NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory. "Severe Weather 101 — Tornadoes." Accessed September 13, 2022.
- NOAA National Weather Services. "Summary of Natural Hazard Statistics for 2021 in the United States." Accessed September 12, 2022.
- Storm Prediction Center. "Tornado Totals and Related Deaths." Accessed September 22, 2022.
- World Atlas. "Tornado Alley." Accessed September 13, 2022.