Are You Prepared for a Tornado? What You and Your Family Need to Know

home prepared tornado cover photo

Tornadoes are widely considered to be one of the most powerful and violent weather events, leaving damage and destruction in their wake. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), approximately 1,200 tornadoes strike the United States each year. Here’s what homeowners need to know regarding tornado safety before, during, and after a severe weather event.

Know your local risk factors.  

While tornadoes can occur unexpectedly throughout the year, they are most prevalent from March to July, with peak tornado season varying by region. Tornadoes can strike virtually anywhere – and have been reported in all 50 states – but certain areas are most at risk, including the southern Plains, the Gulf coast, the northern Plains, and the upper Midwest. While tornadoes can happen at any time, they typically occur between 4pm and 9pm.

Determine your nearest safe place.

Every family should identify a place they can shelter in moments. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Ideal options include a basement, under a stairwell, an interior bathroom, or any windowless space on the lowest floor. The key factor is that you should avoid a room that has windows. 
  • Note that previous advice often suggested you open windows to equalize pressure, but that is no longer advised.
  • If you are on the lower level of a multi-story house, consider the location of heavy furniture and appliances and situate yourself elsewhere in case the floor above caves in.
  • Flying debris presents the greatest danger in a tornado so your shelter should include protective coverings, such as thick blankets or sleeping bags. 
  • Practice crouching low to the floor, face down, and covering your head with your hands.
  • Ask at your office or child’s school where the nearest safe space is and ensure they hold drills consistently. 
  • Make it a practice to scan stores, churches, stadiums, movie theaters, gyms, and other places you frequent to identify places where you could take cover if necessary.

Safeguard your home.

Preparing your home for a tornado involves steps similar to readiness for any other natural disaster:

  • Secure heavy furniture and appliances with straps or brackets to lessen the chance they will topple.
  • Remove picture frames and mirrors from walls above beds.
  • Move large objects from higher shelves to lower surfaces to lessen the risk of falling.
  • Install tornado shutters to potentially lessen damage from winds and flying debris.
  • Keep your yard free of debris and extraneous loose items, such as ride-on toys or garden tools.
  • Make a plan to secure outdoor items, like furniture, if a tornado is imminent. 

In addition, some homeowners choose to create safe rooms, which are reinforced with concrete or steel to offer additional protection. If your house construction didn’t include one, they can be created in the basement or by fortifying existing closets or interior bathrooms.

Review your communication plan.

If you’ve heard this advice before for other types of natural disasters or home fires, it’s because it’s sound — every family should have an emergency plan that includes options for communicating with each other to establish your safety and location. Since local phone systems are often swamped, identify an out-of-town contact, since that person might be easier to reach and can track locations for the whole family.

As part of this step, make sure every family member understands your local emergency communication system and knows where to shelter in your house and in locations where they routinely spend time, like school or work.

Update your emergency kit.

A robust emergency kit can keep you safe and healthy in any disaster including tornadoes. Refer to Ready.gov’s comprehensive checklist of basic supplies to have on hand, with recommended food, water, safety equipment, and sanitation and medical supplies. Prepare mini kits you can access when you’re not at home and stash them in your car and office. Don’t forget to update and replenish emergency kits regularly.

Sign up for alerts.

Know where to get accurate information in your local area, such as through Twitter accounts run by your city or local news provider. Local agencies likely have a text service you can sign up for: Start by searching for “your city” + emergency alerts” to find it. Also make sure you have enabled Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) from the National Weather Service on your mobile device.

Note, however, that cell phone alerts won’t work if the phone system is disabled or is overloaded, as often happens during a weather event. That’s when a battery-powered radio can be a vital tool to stay informed.

Know the difference between a “watch” and a “warning” and act accordingly.

Tornado “watches” are issued by the NOAA Storm Prediction Center and cover larger parts of a state or region. This is your cue to prepare for severe weather and pay attention to further reports. By contrast, a tornado “warning” is issued by a local NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Office and indicates the tornado has been reported by a storm spotter or identified on radar. When you hear a warning, it’s imperative to immediately seek shelter.

The Centers for Diseases Control (CDC) offers the following signs of a potential impending tornado:

  • A dark or green-colored sky
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud
  • Large hail
  • A loud roar that sounds like a freight train

Be cautious when venturing out.

Once you believe a tornado has passed, (tornadoes can last from several seconds to an hour, but most last about 10 minutes) continue to monitor emergency briefings for the latest information. When you believe it’s safe to leave your shelter, take the following steps to avoid hazards:

  • Avoid downed power lines that might still be carrying electricity.
  • Wear sturdy shoes and watch your step for debris from nearby buildings.
  • Stay away from damaged property that could collapse.
  • Use flashlights rather than candles if the power is out as matches or lighters put you at risk of igniting leaking natural gas pipes or fuel tanks.

What if my home has been affected by a tornado?

The good news is that wind damage caused by tornadoes is typically covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy. If you’re affected by a tornado, we are here to help recoup your losses as you begin to replace and rebuild. Here is how to start the process:

1. Assess the damage to your property. 

Your house may have suffered structural damage as well as property damage, so document where you may need repairs. Pay extra attention to walls, floors, staircases, doors, and windows.

While you might think it’s best to file a claim immediately, regardless of the level of damage, wait until you are sure it’s needed, as an unnecessary claim on your record could negatively impact your insurance rates in the future. Before deciding if you should file, get an estimate of the cost of repairs and compare it to your deductible to determine whether it would be more cost-effective to pay out of pocket or file the claim.

2. Contact your carrier to file a claim if the damage is significant enough.

If you determine it’s advantageous to file a claim, find out how to initiate the paperwork and request. Your carrier can also keep you apprised of all the steps you need to take to ensure the repairs or replacements are covered.

3. Take photos and save receipts.

A paper trail can ease the process if your adjuster has additional questions later.

Having adequate insurance coverage gives you peace of mind in the event of a tornado or any situation where your home is at risk. Visit Matic today to compare policies so you can be sure your home and valuables are protected.