7 ways to prepare for tornadoes, hail and serious storms

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Warmer weather is often welcomed after a long winter. But as you get mentally and physically ready for sunnier days, you should also be preparing for serious consequences of hotter weather – hail storms and tornadoes. While both can happen year-round, oftentimes they ramp up during warmer months.

In an average year, the U.S. sees about 1,000 tornadoes.[1] The numbers on hail can vary. For example, in 2023, there were nearly 7,000 reported hail events compared to less than 4,500 the previous year.[2]

The more you can do to prepare yourself ahead of time for these weather events, the better off you’ll be if and when one – or both – strike your area.

Here’s everything you need to know about getting ready and staying safe.

1. Stay informed

One of the easiest and most important preparation steps to take is to understand your risk. While any part of the U.S. can face a tornado, the Midwest and Southeast have the greatest tornado threat. The same goes for hail storms; they can happen anywhere but are most common in “Hail Alley,” where the states of Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming meet.[3]

If you’re in a high-risk area, sign up for your community’s warning system and become familiar with the warning tone for your community’s siren system.[4] You can also receive emergency alerts from the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio.

In addition, closely monitor weather reports – whether online, on TV, or on the radio. Your local meteorologists will be keeping close watch on weather conditions to predict when weather is ripe for a hail storm or tornado formation.

2. Know the signs

While hopefully you’ll have a heads up about an imminent tornado via an emergency alert and/or siren, it’s still a good idea to know tornado danger signs. Those include:

  • A greenish-looking sky
  • A lot of hail (often in the absence of rain)
  • A cloud of debris
  • A loud roar, like a freight train
  • A rotating, funnel-shaped cloud

Hail storms can happen independently from tornadoes, so you should also watch out for signs that a hail storm may be coming, like thunder, lightning, and gray, fast moving clouds.

3. Make a disaster emergency kit

If you don’t have one already, create an emergency supply kit for your home with all of the essentials you’ll need in a disaster. Some of the items to add to your kit include:

  • Water
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and extra batteries
  • Medications and medical items for both you and your family members (e.g., hearing aids, syringes, glasses)
  • Baby supplies, if applicable
  • Copies of personal documents
  • Cell phone with chargers
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Map(s) of the area

You can find the full list on redcross.org.[5] 

4. Plan where you will go

Seeking shelter may not seem like something worth practicing, but going through the motions ahead of time will give you peace of mind during the actual event.

First, identify where you’d go during a tornado. Safe rooms or storm shelters built to ICC 500 standards are ideal locations, but that’s not always an option. The next best thing is a small, interior, windowless room on the lowest level of your home or building.

Next, practice taking your entire family to the shelter. This includes pets, any elderly family members, or those in need of extra assistance. Identify and work out any issues to lessen any potential panic when a tornado arrives.

5. Prepare your home

While protecting you and your family is your No.1 priority, there are steps you can take to defend your home from major hail or tornado damage.

Start by trimming your trees to keep them from potentially posing a threat during high winds. Consider investing in a surge protector to keep equipment safe from power surges, and reinforce your garage doors since they are often the first structural element of your house to fail during a bad storm. For areas that get a lot of hail, it’s a smart idea to install screens around your home’s air conditioning unit to help minimize hail damage.

6. Review your insurance policy

It’s important to check your insurance policies well in advance of any natural disaster so you know what will – and won’t – be covered.

When it comes to hail, most standard homeowners policies should cover any damage. However, your car will only be covered for any hail damage if you have comprehensive insurance. This policy feature is usually paired with collision coverage and is designed to protect against weather-related threats.

If you’re unsure whether to file a claim for hail damage, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Does the value of the damage exceed your deductible? In order to file a claim, damage must be greater than your deductible. 
  2. Are you planning on re-selling your vehicle? If you’re planning to resell your car in the future, it might be a good idea to repair your car.
  3. Are you leasing or financing? If the former, then you’ll need to repair your vehicle since you’re usually required to return your car in near perfect condition.

When it comes to tornadoes, as long as you have comprehensive car insurance, you should be covered for any destruction caused by a twister.

From a homeowners insurance perspective, tornadoes are covered by a standard policy. The caveat is you may not have enough protection to cover all of your losses – especially if there is extensive damage and rebuilding is required. You may want to consider getting extended replacement cost coverage, which will extend your coverage up to a certain percentage beyond your home’s insured value. This type of coverage is helpful for those living in high-risk areas, since large-scale destruction can hike up building costs.

As with any situation, it’s important to know what you have – and make sure you have what you need – before a natural disaster strikes, because insurers often restrict new policies and changes during storms.

7. Take cover

If your area is in a tornado warning, head to your designated safe space, just like you did during your practice run. If you’re in a public place like work or at school, listen for guidance on where it’s safest to take cover.

If you’re caught in your car during a tornado, your best bet is to go to the closest shelter. If that isn’t possible, get down in your car as low as possible and cover your head, or seek out a ditch or ravine.

If you’re in the car during a hail storm, drive slowly to a safe location and then pull over or seek shelter. But while you’re doing so, drive slowly. The faster you go, the more damage you’ll get.

Once the tornado warning has ended or the hail storm has ceased, continue listening to your local news or weather station for updates, because other storms or additional tornadoes may follow. You’ll also want to check on your family and friends to not only let them know you’re OK, but to make sure they’re safe. Do the same for your neighbors, especially those who are most vulnerable and may not have others to help them.

If you’re sure the storm has completely passed, you’ll need to assess the destruction done to your home and car. Proceed with caution as you do, since power lines could be down or damaged buildings could be unstable. If the power is out, use a flashlight to guide you. Take inventory and photos of anything that’s damaged or lost as a result of the tornado so you have it available for any insurance claims you may make. 

While the thought of a hail storm or tornado is truly scary, if you’re prepared, and properly insured, you should be in the best position possible to navigate the disaster.