Do You Need Tornado Insurance?

By Diane Tait

Florida tornado damage image courtesy USAF
Even if you don’t live in Kansas, tornadoes occur with frightening regularity.  Believe it or not, Kansas isn’t the state with the most twisters per annum.  Texas leads the nation, with Kansas in the number two slot followed by the Sunshine State of Florida, which is where I live.  That’s right, Dorothy, Florida on average gets more tornadoes than Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado, even though it’s nowhere near Tornado Alley.  That’s simply because when the sun isn’t shining in the Sunshine State, we get lots and lots of thunderstorms and hurricanes which can spawn tornadoes.  But that’s hardly unique.  Unless you live in Alaska, there’s always the possibility of a tornado visiting your state.  Should a twister come roaring down your street, the chance for catastrophic damage to your property is extreme.  The question is whether your homeowner’s policy will cover all the damages so you can pick up the pieces. 

Tornadoes can happen anywhere at any time.

 If you live in Jacksonville, Florida like I do, you’re probably more concerned with lightning strikes and hail damage than you are about a tornado.  But Jacksonville has had several twisters in the past decade, including a spectacular waterspout that was broadcast on the six o’clock news a few years ago.  Less than a month ago, tornado warnings were issued for Duval County and at least one twister actually touched down in Florida, although it was south of Jacksonville.  What most people don’t understand is that tornadoes don’t always announce their presence with a spectacular funnel cloud.  Many F1 and F2 tornadoes cause damage in the dead of night, which means affected homeowners don’t even realize they’ve been hit by a twister until they awake the following morning to find trees down, power lines snapped, vehicles flipped, and/or shingles torn from their roofs.  Below are some facts about tornado damage that you need to understand.

      1.      Are you covered if a twister strikes your home? – If your home sustains tornado damage, some of it is indeed covered by your homeowner’s policy.  Wind damage caused by a tornado is a covered peril under your homeowner’s policy.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is if you live in a coastal community, instead of paying a flat deductible, many insurance companies require homeowners to pay a percentage deductible if the damage was sustained during a hurricane.  While consumers chafe at being charged a deductible equal to 2, 5 or 10 percent of their home’s value, the insurance companies argue that without them many coastal counties would be deemed uninsurable.  The last pair of hurricanes to do significant damage to Florida, Matthew and Irma caused more than $50 billion in damages.  It was estimated that had Irma hit Miami, those figures could have topped $200 billion.

Image courtesy pxfuel
When the wind blows. – While windstorm damage is a covered peril, all the damage that a twister can inflict on a property isn’t necessarily so.  That’s because, wind isn’t the only hazard that tornadoes have in their bag of tricks.  An F0 tornado can pack wind speeds ranging from 64-116 MPH.  Those of an F1 can hit 180 MPH and an F2 can top 250 MPH.  This means even a baby twister can cause more damage than most hurricanes.  At speeds above 150 MPH, roofs can be torn off and debris will turn into missiles that can shatter windows, topple tall trees and flip vehicles over.  If you’ve ever seen pictures of what’s left of a neighborhood after a tornado has hit, then you’ve probably thought it looked as though a bomb has exploded.  What you may not have realized is that most of the damage was caused in less than a minute.  As far as your insurance company is concerned, what matters most is what happens to your property after the wind stops blowing.

      3.      Is your house still standing? – If your property gets torn up by a twister, what can you expect your insurer to pay?  That depends on the fine print in your policy.  If the roof was blown off, this is a covered peril.  However, if the shed or fence was obliterated, your policy may or may not cover this damage.  (Read the fine print on your homeowner’s policy to see what is excluded.)  If one or more of your trees should fall, while your insurer will pay for any damage caused to your home, don’t expect them to pick up the tab for clearing the fallen tree off your property. That’s left to you.

      4.      You don’t live in an Ark. – That means that your home would be vulnerable to water damage should a twister hit your property.  Water damage may or may not be a covered peril under your policy.  It is probably, but not necessarily, a covered peril if the water damage was caused when the roof was blown off or a window was broken allowing water to enter your home.  (Again, you’ll need to read the fine print to see what is excluded.) However, if the storm that spawned the tornado caused localized flooding that inundated your home, this isn’t covered under your homeowner’s policy.  To get reimbursed, you would need an additional flood policy.

      5.      What happens if your tree or flying debris from your home damages a neighbor’s property? – If the tree falls due to an act of God, the insurer will pay for the damage to your neighbor’s property.  The only caveat is that the tree must have been in good condition prior to taking a tumble.  If the insurance adjuster discovers that the tree was in disrepair or leaning before it fell, chances are you’ll be saddled with the cost of making your neighbor’s property whole.  (This is also a good reason to make sure any trees on your property that are in bad shape are either cut down or trimmed by a tree surgeon.)

Image courtesy pxfuel
      6.      What about damage to your car? – If you park your car outside, chances are it will be severely damaged by a tornado.  Hundred or more MPH winds can hurl debris through car windows, dent the exterior or topple a tree atop it.  Then the rainstorm that spawned the twister can fill the car causing yet more damage.  While none of this damage is covered under your homeowner’s policy, it is by your auto insurance’s comprehensive coverage.  Of course, you’ll still be liable for the deductible on your policy.

      7.      How much of your personal effects are covered by your homeowner’s policy? – While every homeowner’s policy covers personal belongings, depending on the possessions you own, the standard coverage may prove insufficient to make you whole again were your home to be destroyed or sustain a lot of water damage.  To make sure you are adequately protected, I advise you call your insurance agent to discuss the matter.  This goes doubly if you rent, since your landlord’s insurance policy only covers his or her property, not yours.

      8.      Should you invest in tornado insurance? – While you can buy earthquake insurance, there is no such thing as tornado insurance.   A portion of your homeowner’s policy covers you against damage caused by twisters.  However, that doesn’t necessarily mean your property is adequately protected. Your best bet to maintain sufficient coverage against any tornado is to make sure you have adequate windstorm coverage on your property.   In some parts of the country it may even be necessary to purchase a separate wind & hail policy along with your homeowner’s policy.  It may also behoove you to include a flood policy whether you live in a flood zone or not, since any area that experiences thunderstorms can flood.

Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance.  To find out more about how you can save money on insurance, go to her site or fill out the form at right.


  1. Most people aren't aware that on average the US experiences more than 1,200 tornadoes per year, with the deadliest months being April, May and June.

  2. Check your policy for the details. We live in Florida, we get lots of tornadoes each year.


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