The Day Before a Tornado

May 21, 2011, was a beautiful Saturday in Joplin, Missouri. Families were hosting barbecues. Tabatha and Aaron Garbet were getting married. Missouri Southern State University’s class of 2011 were getting their diplomas. Tragically, just 24 hours later, the small town would be devastated by an EF-5 tornado that killed 158 people, making it the seventh deadliest tornado in U.S. history.

More recently here in Georgia, a very strong EF-3 tornado ripped through Bartow and Gordon counties on Jan. 30, killing one person and damaging hundreds of homes and businesses.

Tornadoes, perhaps more than any other type of disaster, emphasize the need to prepare in advance. The violent storms can strike quickly and with little warning. In Joplin, many residents were caught off-guard because the weather was clear and sunny for most of the afternoon before the storm hit.

Although tornadoes can strike at any time, March, April and May are the most active months for tornado activity in Georgia. There’s not a better time to prepare. To help you get ready, here are some steps to take so you won’t be caught off-guard:

  • Pick a place where family members could gather if a tornado is headed your way. It could be your basement or, if there is no basement, a center hallway, bathroom, or closet on the lowest floor. Keep this place uncluttered.
  • If you are in a high-rise building, you may not have enough time to go to the lowest floor. Pick a place in a hallway in the center of the building.
  • Assemble a Ready kit.
  • Find out how you can receive severe weather alerts from your local emergency management agency. In addition, purchase NOAA Weather Radio, which is the best way to find out about tornado watches and warnings, even if you are asleep. You can also monitor commercial radio,  television and the Internet for the latest weather forecasts, or download the Ready Georgia mobile app.
  • Tornado WATCHES and WARNINGS are issued by NWS. A tornado WATCH means a tornado is possible in your area. A tornado WARNING means a tornado has been sighted and may be headed for your area. Go to safety immediately.

After a tornado, many of the most pressing questions have to do with your insurance coverage. The Georgia Insurance Commissioner recommends the following tips to minimize your struggles after a storm:

  • Make a list of all valuables and photograph or take video of your possessions. Keep copies in a safe place outside your home. If your home is damaged or destroyed in a natural disaster, it may be difficult for you to tell your insurance agent what you lost without proof.
  • Keep your insurance policy numbers and your agent’s phone number in a safe place, and contact your agent or insurance company immediately after a disaster.
  • Protect your property from further damage. For example, if your roof is damaged, cover it with a tarp to prevent water damage from subsequent rain. Most policies will not cover such damage.
  • Make sure you understand the difference between actual cash value (ACV) and replacement cost coverage for your contents, and obtain the coverage that best suits your needs. An ACV policy replaces contents at cost minus depreciation. If you have replacement cost coverage, your contents will be replaced at today’s prices.
  • For more information about insurance, visit www.oci.ga.gov.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to think about what you would do if a tornado struck your home. Today is a normal day, but so was May 21 in Joplin.