The United States experiences more tornadoes than any other country in the world. With an average of 1,150 tornadoes every year, the U.S. produces more twisters than Canada, Australia and all European countries combined.
But what makes the U.S. the perfect landscape for tornadic conditions? Just as you need the right ingredients to make a cake, the right mix of ingredients are required to form a tornado. The U.S. provides these conditions, particularly throughout the Great Plains, the South and the Midwest. Warm, moist air near the ground combined with dry, cool air above, with wind overlapping between the two, create an environment conducive to tornadic conditions.
The topography of the U.S. is unique with its coastal regions, plains and mountainous areas. When the warm, Gulf of Mexico air blows north across the Great Plains, it reaches the cool air that has worked its way from the Rocky Mountains in the west. Tornado alley, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota, is most commonly associated with twisters. But tornadoes don’t limit themselves to these regions. In fact, some of the most destructive tornadoes have occurred outside these states. The deadliest tornado in U.S. history was March 18, 1925, which tore through three states —Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. There were 695 fatalities.
In more recent news, Western Kentucky experienced a catastrophic EF4 tornado on Dec. 10, 2021, resulting in 77 fatalities and extensive damage to multiple towns. The storm system consisting of multiple tornadoes traveled more than 200 miles across several states in the Southern U.S. and Midwest, beginning in Arkansas and ripping through Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky.
According to an article published in The Washington Post in March 2021, experts are trying to get away from the term “Tornado Alley,” because the area only covers a fraction of the area hit by tornadoes every year. Limiting the term to just these areas can be misleading to residents of the Deep South and the Midwest, where twisters are known to make regular appearances. Tornadoes in the South are often rain-wrapped and more difficult to see coming, especially because they’re more likely to occur at night than tornadoes that occur in the Great Plains. Because of this, fatality rates are more likely to be increased in these areas.
A tornado is a violently rotating column of air capable of wreaking catastrophic damage to anything in its path. Although some areas experience this weather phenomena more than others, tornadoes have been reported in all 50 states. According to the National Weather Service in Milwaukee, Wisconsin experienced 40 tornadoes in 2021, the most since 2010. The state was hit with nine tornadoes on Dec. 15, 2021, alone. On Aug. 18, 2005, 27 tornadoes tore through Wisconsin, resulting in one fatality and multiple injuries.
South Dakota, in the northern portion of the aforementioned “Tornado Alley,” averages roughly 19 tornadoes per year. Though not as common in South Dakota as compared to other states in the Great Plains, twisters have done their fair share of damage to the region. In August of 2021, severe weather including a tornado traveled through southeastern South Dakota, resulting in several downed trees and roof damage to some homes.
To stay safe in the event of a tornado, you should have an emergency plan in place ahead of time. Keeping an emergency kit on hand, including water, nonperishable food and medication, is a good idea in case the inclement weather continues for an extended period of time. Make sure you have a flashlight, batteries and a battery-operated radio to keep tabs on the emergency weather information. To shelter during a storm, make sure you stay away from windows and remain on the lowest floor of your home in a centrally located area. If you’re in a mobile home, find a nearby building to shelter in until the storm passes. It is preferable to find a structure with a basement, but if that’s not a possibility, shelter in a room or hallway without windows in the most central part of the building. Don’t try to outrun a tornado. If you’re in your car and a tornado is coming, get to the nearest sturdy building.
Because a tornado is an intense, destructive vortex of wind, if your home is in the path of a tornado and damaged, a typical homeowners policy should cover wind damage and hail damage caused by the twister. Tornadoes can also cause trees to fall, potentially damaging your home or property in the process. Depending on your policy coverage, damage from fallen trees may or may not be covered. If the tree falls in direct relation to a weather event, it will likely be covered, but if it falls as a result of a maintenance-related issue, it may not be covered.
No matter where you are in the U.S., it’s a good idea to be prepared for the possibility of a tornado. Although more common in some areas than others, even some of the least-hit areas in the U.S. have experienced this natural disaster at some point in history. An unwelcome honor that has been thrust upon us, the U.S. resides at the top of the list of tornadoes recorded every year, so understanding the risk and taking safety precautions is vastly important.
K-Factor Advocates is a public adjusting firm that specializes in insurance claim negotiation, policy language and interpretation, and claims estimating. K-Factor’s team of public adjusters work on behalf of the policyholder. Coverage areas include Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan.