Home Insurance and Weather Damage
Tornado Home Protection
Even if you live outside “Tornado Alley,” the area of the country that runs north from Texas through eastern Nebraska and northeast to Indiana, you are still vulnerable to tornadoes. Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas may see more of these unpredictable and dangerous storms than other states, but the rest of the country also gets its share of twisters. Follow these steps to protect your family and your home from disaster.
First Things First
Structures built to meet or exceed current model building codes for high-wind regions have a much better chance of surviving violent windstorms. The Standard Building Code, issued by the Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc., is one source for guidance on fortifying your home against fierce winds. Although no home can withstand a direct hit from a severe tornado, solid construction will help your home survive if it’s to the side of the tornado’s path.
When inspecting your home, pay particular attention to the windows, doors, roof, gables and connections (roof-to-wall, wall-to-foundation). Residences in inland areas are typically not built to withstand high wind forces, and weaknesses in these elements of your home make it more vulnerable to significant damage.
If you’re handy with a hammer and saw, you can do much of the work yourself. Work involving your home’s structure may require a building contractor, however, or even a registered design professional such as an architect or engineer.
When working outside
- Replace gravel/rock landscaping material with shredded bark.
- Keep trees and shrubbery trimmed. Cut weak branches and trees that could fall on your house.
When building or remodeling
Windows: If you are replacing your existing windows, install impact-resistant window systems, which have a much better chance of surviving a major windstorm. These window systems are commonly available in hurricane-prone areas. If you are unable to find them locally, you can order them from manufacturers or home improvement stores in coastal areas.
Entry doors: Make certain your doors have at least three hinges and a dead-bolt security lock, with a bolt at least one inch long. Anchor door frames securely to wall framing.
Patio doors: Sliding glass doors are more vulnerable to wind damage than most other doors. If you are replacing your patio doors or building a new home, consider installing impact-resistant door systems made of laminated glass, plastic glazing or a combination of plastic and glass.
Garage doors: Because of their size and construction, garage doors are highly susceptible to wind damage. A qualified inspector can determine if both the door and the track system can resist high winds and, if necessary, replace them with a stronger system.
Garage doors more than 8 feet wide are most vulnerable. Install permanent wood or metal stiffeners. Or contact the door manufacturer’s technical staff for recommendations about temporary center supports you can attach and remove easily when severe weather threatens.
Roofs: If you are replacing your roof, take steps to ensure that both the new roof covering and the sheathing will resist high winds. Your roofing contractor should:
- Remove old coverings down to the bare wood sheathing.
- Remove sheathing to confirm that rafters and trusses are securely connected to the walls.
- Replace damaged sheathing.
- Refasten existing sheathing according to the proper fastening schedule outlined in the current model building code for high-wind regions.
- Install a roof covering designed to resist high winds.
- Seal all roof sheathing joints with self-stick rubberized asphalt tape to provide a secondary moisture barrier.
If you want to give your roof sheathing added protection, but it’s not time to re-roof, glue the sheathing to the rafters and the trusses. Use an adhesive that conforms to Performance Specification AFG-01 developed by APA — The Engineered Wood Association, which you can find at any hardware store or home improvement center.
Gables: Brace the end wall of a gable roof properly to resist high winds. Check the current model building code for high-wind regions for appropriate guidance, or consult a qualified engineer or architect.
Connections: The points where the roof and the foundation meet the walls of your house are extremely important if your home is to resist high winds and the pressures they place on the entire structure.
- Anchor the roof to the walls with metal clips and straps (most easily added when you replace your roof).
- Make certain the walls are properly anchored to the foundation. A registered design professional can determine if these joints need retrofitting, and a qualified contractor can perform the work the design professional identifies.
- If your house has more than one story, make certain the upper story wall framing is firmly connected to the lower framing. The best time to do this is when you remodel.
When a tornado threatens
While no home can ever be made “tornado-proof,” you can improve the odds of your home surviving high winds by taking these precautions. Take these additional steps to protect yourself and your family:
- Decide in advance where you will take shelter (a local community shelter, perhaps, or your own underground storm cellar or in-residence “safe” room). When a tornado approaches, go there immediately. If your home has no storm cellar or in-residence “safe” room and you have no time to get to a community shelter, head to the centermost part of your basement or home — away from windows and preferably under something sturdy like a workbench or staircase. The more walls between you and the outside, the better.
- Become familiar with your community’s severe weather warning system and make certain every adult and teenager in your family knows what to do when a tornado watch or warning sounds. Learn about your workplace’s disaster safety plans and similar measures at your children’s schools or day care centers.
- Study your community’s disaster preparedness plans and create a family plan in case you are able to move to a community shelter. Identify escape routes from your home and neighborhood and designate an emergency meeting place for your family to reunite if you become separated. Also establish a contact point to communicate with concerned relatives.
- Put together an emergency kit that includes a three-day supply of drinking water and food you don’t have to refrigerate or cook; first aid supplies; a portable NOAA weather radio; a wrench and other basic tools; a flashlight; work gloves; emergency cooking equipment; portable lanterns; fresh batteries for each piece of equipment; clothing; blankets; baby items; prescription medications; extra car and house keys; extra eyeglasses; credit cards and cash; important documents, including insurance policies.
- Move anything in your yard that can become flying debris inside your house or garage before a storm strikes. Do this only if authorities have announced a tornado watch, however. If authorities have announced a tornado warning, leave it all alone.
- Don’t open your windows. You won’t save the house, as once thought, and you may actually make things worse by giving wind and rain a chance to get inside.
- Don’t try to ride out a tornado in a manufactured home. Even manufactured homes with tie-downs overturn in these storms because they have light frames and offer winds a large surface area to push against. In addition, their exteriors are vulnerable to high winds and wind-borne debris.
Finally, review your homeowners insurance policy periodically with your insurance agent or company representative to make sure you have sufficient coverage to rebuild your life and home after a tornado. Report any property damage to your insurance agent or company representative immediately after a natural disaster and make temporary repairs to prevent further damage.
For information about filing an insurance claim after a natural disaster, contact your insurance agent or insurance company.
Tornado Storm Shelters
When a deadly tornado hits, moving into an interior room or closet of your home – as many guidelines recommend – might not offer enough protection. That’s why some homeowners choose to build or buy a family storm shelter.
What kinds of storm shelters are there?
Three main types of shelters are designed to help protect you from severe weather. While each is intended to keep you and your family safe, each has its pros and cons.
Underground: A modern version of the old “storm cellars,” these shelters are usually safe from flying debris and high winds. If you have to go outdoors (however briefly) to get inside, it can be difficult to access them if conditions outside are hazardous. Installation can be a problem, depending on the type of rock and the water table in your area.
In-residence: These act more like fortified closets, so they are more accessible when a tornado is imminent. They are usually built into a new house using reinforced concrete, reinforced masonry or wood/steel combinations. Building one into an existing house can be difficult and costly. Alternatives include pre-built metal shelters that are not only easier to install, but can be placed almost anywhere in the house.
Community: If a family shelter isn’t an option, community shelters can hold multiple families (from as few as a dozen people to several hundred). Commonly used in manufactured housing areas, these shelters are usually above ground – which exposes them to flying debris – but many more lives can be saved.
What’s the best storm shelter?
There’s no one authority to tell you what the best storm shelter is, nor can the federal government endorse a specific type of storm shelter as being “the best.” However, safety standards for storm shelters and shelter components have been established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ensure that you will be protected in most tornadoes, while the National Storm Shelter Association has also established a shelter standard.
The Wind Science and Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University performs tests on shelters and various shelter components to see if they meet both sets of guidelines. Researchers use high-powered air cannon to shoot wooden two-by-fours at shelter walls and doors to simulate flying debris, while another test uses a wind tunnel to simulate the high winds and stress that walls would encounter. These tests and guidelines can help you choose the shelter that can best protect your family when a real tornado hits.
The following rules are only a few of the federal guidelines established by FEMA. More information, including building plans, materials and more is available either by calling 1-888-565-3896 and requesting publication FEMA 320 (“Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your House”).
High winds: Tested with a 3-second gust of 250 mph.
- Walls, doors and ceilings must be able to withstand the peak wind velocity without buckling or separating.
- The shelter cannot overturn or slide.
Debris: Tested with a 15 lb. two-by-four wooden board propelled at 100 mph (250 mph wind equivalent)
- The walls and ceiling of a shelter must resist penetration by a test object.
- Shelters must have a protected ventilation system.
- Shelters should have at least one fire extinguisher, flashlights, a first-aid kit, 8 hours’ supply of drinking water, and a NOAA weather radio.
Additional requirements for underground shelters:
- Shelters must be watertight and resist flotation due to saturated soil.
- Shelters must contain a transmitter of some sort to signal the location of the shelter to emergency personnel, should debris trap shelter occupants.
Where can I find more information?
The National Storm Shelter Industry standard is available at: http://www.nssa.cc
Texas Tech’s Wind Science and Engineering Research Center explains the testing process and has a number of links: http://www.wind.ttu.edu
Here in the USA, tornadoes have occurred in every month, so any time is a good time to review tornado safety procedures – for home, for school, for work, in the car, and while out and about. And if you are considering a storm shelter, take a look at our page about shelters.
Each year about a thousand tornadoes touch down in the US. Only a small percentage actually strike occupied buildings, but every year a number of people are killed or injured. The chances that a tornado will strike a building that you are in are very small, however, and you can greatly reduce the chance of injury by doing a few simple things.
One of the most important things you can do to prevent being injured in a tornado is to be ALERT to the onset of severe weather. Most deaths and injuries happen to people who are unaware and uninformed. Young children or the mentally challenged may not recognize a dangerous situation. The ill, elderly, or invalid may not be able to reach shelter in time. Those who ignore the weather because of indifference or overconfidence may not perceive the danger. Stay aware, and you will stay alive!
If you don’t regularly watch or listen to the weather report, but strange clouds start moving in and the weather begins to look stormy, turn to the local radio or television station to get the weather forecast.
If a tornado “watch” is issued for your area, it means that a tornado is “possible.”
If a tornado “warning” is issued, it means that a tornado has actually been spotted, or is strongly indicated on radar, and it is time to go to a safe shelter immediately.
Be alert to what is happening outside as well. Here are some of the things that people describe when they tell about a tornado experience:
- A sickly greenish or greenish black color to the sky.
- If there is a watch or warning posted, then the fall of hail should be considered as a real danger sign. Hail can be common in some areas, however, and usually has no tornadic activity along with it.
- A strange quiet that occurs within or shortly after the thunderstorm.
- Clouds moving by very fast, especially in a rotating pattern or converging toward one area of the sky.
- A sound a little like a waterfall or rushing air at first, but turning into a roar as it comes closer. The sound of a tornado has been likened to that of both railroad trains and jets.
- Debris dropping from the sky.
- An obvious “funnel-shaped” cloud that is rotating, or debris such as branches or leaves being pulled upwards, even if no funnel cloud is visible.
If you see a tornado and it is not moving to the right or to the left relative to trees or power poles in the distance, it may be moving towards you! Remember that although tornadoes usually move from southwest to northeast, they also move towards the east, the southeast, the north, and even northwest.
Encourage your family members to plan for their own safety in many different locations. It is important to make decisions about the safest places well BEFORE you ever have to go to them.
Is it likely that a tornado will strike your home or school? No. But being ready for the possibility will keep you safer!
Deaths and injuries from tornadoes have dropped dramatically in the past 50 years. Casualties numbers are holding steady as scientists learn more about tornadoes and develop the technologies that detect them sooner. Forecasters must continue to improve techniques because the population is increasing. The National Weather Service, Storm Prediction Center, and television and radio weather people have taken full advantage of the advancements in tornado prediction to improve warnings.
In addition, many people generously donate their time and expertise to help protect their neighbors and communities in another way — by tornado and severe storm “spotting.” “Spotters” combine an interest in the weather, a willingness to serve and often, ham radio experience to make tornado prone areas safer for all. Spotting can provide a focus to a person’s interest in the weather, and ham radio helps you meet other like-minded people. It is not often that something that starts out as a hobby can potentially do so much good. If you are interested in Skywarn training and becoming a spotter, check out the National Skywarn page.