Preparing for Hurricanes and Tornados

By Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA

Hurricane season began this year with a series of devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma.

First, a tornado classified as EF5, which is the most powerful ranking, tore through a suburb of Oklahoma City and killed 24 people.  Just 11 days later, five tornadoes hit central Oklahoma, causing flash flooding and killing 13 people.

Watching the devastation likely reminded Sturbridge residents of the tornado that hit our region two years ago, causing severe damage to hundreds of homes.

Although some other regions of the country are more susceptible to weather damage than we are, the Sturbridge tornado is a reminder that severe weather can affect any area.  As we’ve pointed out in past columns, this region has historically been affected by both hurricanes and tornado, which are sometimes created by hurricanes.

No one can control the weather, but there is much we can do to control the damage it causes.  Ideally, we should protect our home and family both physically and with insurance, just in case your home ends up in the path of a tornado or a hurricane.

Insurance Protection

If you failed to review your insurance coverage with your agent after the 2011 tornado, do it now.  You never know when severe weather will hit the area, but when it takes place, it’s too late to add the coverage you need.  Hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30.

Don’t assume that your homeowner’s insurance will provide you with all of the coverage you need.  Know what it covers and what it doesn’t cover.

Homeowner’s insurance typically will cover both wind and water damage caused by a hurricane or tornado, but if you are located in a high-risk area, coverage is typically excluded.  If it’s not excluded, your insurance carrier may restrict your coverage or require very high deductibles.

You may need two separate insurance policies: flood insurance to cover damage caused by flooding or the overflow of surface water runoff, and homeowner’s insurance to cover all other types of damage, including damage caused by wind or fire.

If your home is in a designated high-risk flood zone and your mortgage is from a federally regulated or insured lender, the lender will require that you purchase flood insurance.  If your home is in an area where risk is low or moderate, you won’t be required to purchase flood insurance, but should consider it anyway.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), almost 25% of flood-related insurance claims come from areas with low-to-moderate flood risk.  As FEMA puts it, “Everyone lives in a flood zone.”

If the risk of flooding is low or moderate, the cost of insurance will be lower than if your home were located in a high-risk area.

Sturbridge and other area towns are among the participants in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), a federal program where flood insurance can be purchased for as little as $129 a year and an average of less than $570 a year.

NFIP provides separate coverage for your home and its contents, so be sure to consider both policies.  NFIP’s flood insurance provides coverage of up to $250,000 for property and $100,000 for contents.  Property is insured for at least 80% of replacement cost, depending on location, and contents are insured based on their depreciated value at the time flooding takes place.  Additional coverage can be purchased from private insurers.

Even with both homeowner’s insurance and flood insurance, some types of damage may not be covered.  Coverage is limited for damage caused to trees and scrubs, although if a tree or limb crashes into your home, the damage will be covered.  Deductibles for damage vary greatly.  Damage to important documents is not covered and coverage for damage to contents below ground level is limited.

Damage resulting from mold, wet rot and other issues that result from covered causes are typically covered when caused by flooding, but not when they result from ongoing conditions that are not repaired, such as leaky plumbing.  To ensure that you are covered, though, ask your agent and read your policy.

Also review any deductibles and whether you have insured your home for 100% of its replacement cost.  Insurance used to guarantee coverage up to the cost of replacement, which will vary based on industry conditions.

In addition to covering damage from hurricanes and tornadoes, flood insurance will covers losses from flooding caused by heavy rainstorms, coastal storm surges, melting snow, clogged storm drainage systems, mudslides and levee dams that fail.

Hurricane and Tornado Preparedness

In addition to being properly insured, it’s important to do everything you can to avoid damage.  If your home is in the path of a tornado, there is little you can do to protect it; however, boarding up your windows and making certain everything is secured indoors can help to minimize damage and danger from a hurricane.

There is typically plenty of warning before a hurricane hits and residents are sometimes advised to evacuate the area; a tornado, though, may appear with little warning.  In times when severe weather appears imminent, be certain to tune in to local weather reports.

When a hurricane watch or tornado watch is in effect, conditions are such that a hurricane or tornado may be coming.  When a hurricane warning or tornado warning is in effect, a hurricane or tornado has been sighted and may be headed your way.

Be certain to take shelter during a hurricane warning or tornado warning.  An underground area, such as a basement or storm cellar, provides the best protection.  If an underground area is not available, seek shelter in a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.  Stay away from doors, windows and outside walls.  Stay in the center of the room and avoid corners, which attract debris.

Anyone who has seen reports of the tornadoes in Oklahoma or who has lived through the Sturbridge tornado knows that severe weather should be taken seriously.  Don’t take chances.  Protect yourself, your family and your home before the storm comes.

Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA is President and CEO of McGrath Insurance Group, Inc. of Sturbridge, Mass.  He can be reached at

This article is written for informational purposes only and should not be construed as providing legal advice.