How to get covered in one of the worst tornado seasons in years

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Myles Ma, CPFCSenior ReporterMyles Ma, CPFC, is a certified personal finance counselor and former senior reporter at Policygenius, where he covered insurance and personal finance. His expertise has been featured in The Washington Post, PBS, CNBC, CBS News, USA Today, HuffPost, Salon, Inc. Magazine, MarketWatch, and elsewhere.

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Hundreds of reported tornadoes devastated the United States this spring, causing close to $1 billion in damage and more than 30 deaths. 2019 is shaping up to be one of the worst years for twisters in recent memory.

There's not much anyone can do to stop a tornado. But homeowners insurance can help lessen the financial impact of a destructive storm, as long as you do your homework beforehand.

Does homeowners insurance cover tornado damage?

Most homeowners insurance policies cover windstorm damage, which includes damage caused by tornadoes. In parts of the country prone to tornadoes or hurricanes, many policies specifically exclude windstorm damage.

People who don't get windstorm damage covered as part of their homeowners insurance, either because it's excluded or because of price, can buy separate wind-only insurance, said Fabio Faschi, property and casualty team lead for Policygenius.

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How much does tornado coverage cost?

"If your house is in an area prone to wind claim activity then yeah, your rates are going to be high," Faschi said.

For example, the average homeowners insurance premium in Oklahoma, located in the heart of tornado alley, is almost three times higher than that of Oregon, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

How to make sure you're covered

"The big thing is making sure wind coverage is not excluded on your policy," Faschi said.

If you're not sure, double-check, and if you're not covered, shop around for policies. (Policygenius can help you compare quotes.) While you're at it, see if you'll be responsible for paying a deductible before insurance pays out.

Homeowners policies can have "all peril" deductibles, which apply no matter what caused the damage. But they can also have additional deductibles for specific disasters like hurricanes.

For tornadoes, a wind/hail deductible may apply, especially if you live in a tornado-prone state like Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas or Nebraska. If your policy has a deductible, you'll have to pay a certain amount — either a set dollar figure or a percentage of the insured value of your house — before insurance will pay.

Filing a claim

Much of the work to file a successful claim comes before disaster strikes. Create an inventory to document the condition of your home and establish the value of the structure and your possessions.

"The better documentation you have on everything, the better will turn out," Faschi said.

You should also try to prevent damage ahead of time, he said. Tying down loose property in your yard and installing storm shutters can not only protect your home, but keep you and your family safe as well. The Red Cross has a guide on how to prepare for tornadoes.

After the storm passes and you're assured of your safety, you can start the process of filing a claim by reaching out to your insurance company, which will assign an adjuster who will survey the damage, Faschi said. Just as you documented the state of your home before the tornado, you should also document the damage.

Having good documentation can speed up the claim process, which is important after a major storm when your insurance company might be swamped by claims, Faschi said.

"You obviously want to get your claim in there as soon as possible," Faschi said. "If you have the 'before' documented really well, than it is very easy to compare what the damage is after."

Want to know more about filing a homeowners insurance claim? Read our guide.

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