Spring of 2019 has left even the most storm seasoned homeowners wondering what the rest of the year will bring.
A large and persistent dip in the jet stream across the western U.S. was the main culprit this Spring in a seemingly endless rash of severe weather, according to AccuWeather meteorologists. Since the beginning of the year, more than 1,000 reports of twisters have been logged.
In just a 6-hour span on March 3, a total of 41 tornadoes that touched down across portions of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.
May and June are historically the most active months for storms, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But the truth is tornadoes can happen at any time of the year, the NOAA states, and thus, there isn’t really a tornado “season.”
For the unfortunate people in its path, a tornado can wreak havoc in a matter of minutes and the immediate reaction is often shock and confusion.
Tornadoes can’t be prevented, but taking a few minutes to familiarize yourself with your insurance coverage and make an inventory of your belongings will prove invaluable, experts say.
Things to do before a tornado strikes
On the insurance front, the good news is homeowner polices do cover tornado damage, though they may not say so specifically. A policy doesn't use the word "tornado" but rather wind or windstorm damage, according to Kevin M. Lynch, faculty instructor at the American College of Financial Services in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
Before you’re under a tornado warning, insurance experts say these are important steps to take right now:
Give your homeowners policy a once over and ask yourself these questions:
Is your coverage enough in case your house is a total loss? This goes for structural damage — in which case you won't be safely able to enter your home again — and your personal belongings.
Does the policy include your fence, azaleas or detached garage?
What's covered varies from policy to policy, so read the policy. Does it cover outbuildings and landscaping?
Will you have to pay separate deductibles? Your roof may have a 1 percent deductible, while the rest of the house might be 2 or 3 percent.
Also, familiarize yourself with the "loss of use" coverage. This will pay your rent, hotel and other expenses if you are displaced. Loss of use is typically built into a homeowners policy, and sometimes called "additional living expense" coverage. Most cover temporary housing, meals, moving and laundry costs — but again, check your policy because this is important to know in advance.
In addition, at least once a year, take a walk-through video inventory of the inside and outside of your property. You may have better things to do right now, but documenting everything you have may prove well worth it, says Ronald Reitz, head of the public insurance adjuster company Quality Claims Management. And it isn't just for financial reasons, either, he says.
"It’s a very emotional process to try and go through your scattered and damaged possessions after a disaster," he says. "Do it before you experience the loss.”
4 Key steps after the storm
1. Get the ball rolling. Call your insurance company as soon as you can to get your claim moving. It may seem like a daunting process because it’s new territory to you, but it’s not for your insurance company, says Joe Woods, vice president of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.
“Insurers are here to help in the recovery process and assist families and business owners with filing claims as quickly as possible,” he said. “We encourage owners to think safety first, and to report any claims as soon as possible to begin the recovery process.”
Make sure your insurer has your mobile number — plus another number where you can be reached, notes Lynne McChristian, spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute. Also get a phone number for your adjuster's manager.
“The adjuster may be out in the field, and if you can't reach him or her, it's important to have a backup number," McChristian says.
2. Document and organize. Your life and home are in complete disarray, but don’t start the cleanup just yet. It’s important to document and photograph first. Get pictures of damage and try to write down what's destroyed or missing. Going forward, keep all your receipts in one place and write down who you called, when you called and their contact information, McChristian says.
3. Keep out the elements. After you've taken photos of the damage, cover holes, seal off broken pipes and board up broken windows. It may take several days for the adjuster to arrive, but you're responsible for lessening future damage from the elements.
However, don’t do repairs on your own or starting cleaning up before your adjuster arrives, says Tina Nicholson, a lawyer who specializes in insurance claims related to natural disasters.
“A lot of people’s first instinct is to clean up and throw things out right away,” she says, adding that this may impact the amount of your claim.
4. Take your time with contractors. It may be tempting to get the rebuilding process started as fast as possible or to get a new roof for a steep discount. But the standard advice applies: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Instead, opt for a licensed contractor with references.
“I wouldn’t necessarily rely on the people who show up immediately after a disaster,” says Reitz of Quality Claims Management. “They aren’t always the best people.”
Editor's Note: This is an updated version of an article originally published on August 18, 2013.