If you live in Texas, you know that the weather can be an unpredictable beast at the best of times. A sunny day can suddenly turn dark, with thick clouds rolling in. Cracks of thunder and bolts of lightning boom through the air, and sheets of water come pouring from the sky. But when the chaos settles down into a deadly calm, you know you’re really in trouble—there may be a tornado brewing. Here’s what you need to know about Texas tornadoes, property damage, and how your homeowner’s insurance may not be enough to help you through the aftermath.
How Do Tornadoes Happen?
Tornadoes are the result of some very specific meteorological events coming together all at once. When cold, dry air sweeps through from Canada and is met by a hot, humid wall of air pushing northwards from the Gulf of Mexico, it sets up an atmospherically turbulent and unstable mass of air. As wind shifts where the two air masses meet, a horizontal tunnel of rotating air is created, invisible to the naked eye. Enough of an updraft combined with the force of spinning air can pull one end of the tunnel upright, into a vertical funnel shape…and a tornado is born.
The signs of a tornado condition are unmistakable. The sky often changes color, taking on a very dark or even greenish hue. A strange calm may settle in after a storm, or there may be an intense and sudden shift in the wind. Debris may become visible in the clouds or start falling, and if an incoming tornado is imminent you may hear a constant low rumble like thunder before you ever see a funnel cloud. Use your television, radio, or cellphone to check with local weather authorities and be prepared to take shelter immediately.
Measuring Tornado Strength
The current standard for measuring the severity of a tornado is called the Enhanced Fujita Tornado Intensity Scale. The original scale was developed in the early 1970s by Dr. Ted Fujita, a research scientist from the University of Chicago. As measuring the exact strength of a tornado is incredibly difficult and dangerous during a storm, the Fujita Scale is instead designed as an after-the-fact measurement of the damage the tornado caused. The Enhanced Fujita Scale is based directly on Dr. Fujita’s work, and uses a rating system of zero through five:
- EF0: Wind speeds of 65 to 85 miles per hour and light damage to homes, roofs, and trees.
- EF1: Winds of 86 to 110 miles per hour. More damage, including windows shattered, roofs stripped, mobile homes severely damaged or blown over.
- EF2: Winds of 111 to 135 miles per hour. Heavier damage with roofs completely torn off, homes shifted off foundations, and light cars lifted.
- EF3: Winds of 136 to 165 miles per hour. Heavy vehicles lifted, trains pushed over, roofs and whole levels of homes or buildings destroyed.
- EF4: Winds of 166 to 200 miles per hour. Homes completely destroyed, cars blown through the air, bark is knocked off of trees, and loose objects turned into deadly missiles.
- EF5: Winds over 200 miles per hour. Extraordinarily rare and unbelievably deadly storm that leaves an incredible trail of devastation, including obliterated homes and businesses; cars and vehicles hurled through the air for hundreds of yards; and more.
Tornadoes in the EF5 category are thankfully rare. The last EF5 tornado that struck in the United States was in Moore, Oklahoma, in 2013. The storm resulted in 24 deaths, injured hundreds, and caused about $2 billion dollars in property damage.
First coined in the 1950s by U.S. Air Force scientists, the term “Tornado Alley” refers to a swath of the United States that stretches from central Texas and sweeps through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, and may push as far east as Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and even parts of Ohio. This stretch of America is where conditions can become easily favorable for tornado formation much of the year.
Protect Your Home With Insurance
Tornadoes can cause severe devastation. While all property owners should carry homeowner’s insurance, it’s especially important when you live in Texas, even if you don’t live directly in Tornado Alley. If you already have a policy but aren’t sure whether it covers storm and tornado damage, take a moment to check. Review your policy documents, or call your agent to discuss it before you need it.
If you don’t have storm or tornado coverage, now is the time to consider purchasing a policy that will protect your investment should disaster strike. That way, in the aftermath of a storm (once you’re safe and secure) you can contact your insurer right away to begin the claims process—and start putting your life back together.
Don’t let the insurer bully you into a low settlement, either, or let him deny a claim that is clearly covered under your policy. While insurance can be a lifesaver, some unscrupulous insurers have come to realize that the company won’t make any money by paying out claims. They’ll try any excuse to minimize or deny a claim. Don’t be afraid to reach out for an attorney, who can negotiate a fairer settlement, or if push comes to shove, file a lawsuit to protect your rights.
Get Legal Help With Your Claim
If you don’t think you’re being fairly treated by the insurance company, Wayne Wright LLP would like to hear from you. We work hard every day fighting insurance companies for victims of property damage. To get help with your insurance problem from an experienced legal professional, call us today at 800-237-3334 for a free, no-obligation consultation about your situation. We have offices conveniently located in San Antonio, Austin, Corpus Christi, and El Paso, and we proudly serve clients from all over the Lone Star State.