Reviewed by Jackie Kloosterboer
Updated March 7, 2023
What are the odds of being hit by a tornado in Canada? Well, believe it or not, tornadoes occur fairly frequently in various parts of the country. On average, 80 tornadoes touch down in Canada each year.
We rank second, behind the US, for the largest number of tornadoes. Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan usually get the most, but they can strike just about anywhere if the weather conditions are right. Even the interior of BC is considered a “tornado zone.”
Tornadoes can move very quickly and can leave large areas destroyed in their wake. Other tornadoes can be quite small, just touching down briefly. But no matter the size, tornadoes can uproot trees, demolish homes, destroy personal property, sheds, and swimming pools, and overturn cars. The power of a tornado is both terrifying and amazing.
Warning signs of a potential tornado include:
Damage caused by tornadoes is considered “wind damage” and is covered under most Canadian home insurance policies. But coverage does vary from policy to policy. And some companies offer different degrees of coverage depending on the package you’ve chosen. If you have a named-perils policy form, you need to look at the list of covered perils in your wording booklet to see if wind damage is covered. If you have a comprehensive policy form, you’re covered for all risks subject to a number of exclusions. All you have to do is look at the list of exclusions to see if wind is excluded. Chances are it’s covered. However, wind damage to things outside your home, such as trees, bushes, antennas, and satellite dishes are usually excluded.
Any windstorm can be extremely damaging – lifting shingles, blowing out windows, blowing deck furniture around, breaking tree branches off, and even uprooting trees. And what if the wind causes damage to your home? That beautiful tree in your back yard could wind up crashing through your roof.
Keep your roof in good repair. Old worn shingles are more likely to come loose during a windstorm. If your roof is nearing its life expectancy or is in poor repair, your insurance settlement could be limited. Often insurance providers will limit coverage to the depreciated value of the roof, rather than the replacement cost.
Keep your trees trimmed, removing any dead branches. Consider consulting an arborist if your tree has any damage from past storms.
Secure patio furniture or put it away for the winter. This is especially important for apartment dwellers. Imagine your patio umbrella blowing off your balcony. It could then damage someone else’s property, hit a vehicle, or injure a person. You could be sued for damages, so make sure you have liability insurance to cover you.
During a Canadian winter, there is more to worry about than just wind damage. Snow, rain, and ice storms can also cause significant damage to your property. It’s frightening when you hear that a blizzard is coming your way. And we’ve seen the damage they can cause. Will your home insurance cover you if your home suffers damage during this type of storm?
Ice storms don’t generally take us by surprise. The weather prognosticators enjoy dramatic stories and generally warn us well in advance. However, in winter, it’s always wise to be prepared for bad weather and its dangers.
Before the ice storm – defined by the Weather Service as at least 6.4 millimetres of ice on exposed surfaces – wreaks havoc on roads, trees, power lines and structures, do the following:
Stock up. Make sure you have enough food and water on hand to last at least 72 hours, in case the power goes out. Canned goods that don’t require heating, bottled water and a manually-operated can opener are the key necessities.
Prepare a kit. Have an emergency kit on hand that includes basic medical supplies, a battery-operated radio, a cellphone charger, a flashlight and spare batteries.
Adjust appliances. Turn your refrigerator and your freezer to the highest settings so the food will be as cold as possible, allowing it to last longer if the power goes out.
If you have a freezer, freeze containers of water. If the power goes off, the ice blocks will keep your freezer cold for a longer time.
Tank it. Be sure your vehicle has a full gas tank. Storms play havoc with gasoline deliveries and both shortages and waiting lines may ensue.
Check your BBQ. A barbecue can be an option for cooking when the power is out. Make sure to keep your propane tank full. Just remember: never use a barbecue indoors, as both gas and charcoal grills produce carbon monoxide.
All ears. Monitor the local weather reports and warnings.
Check detectors. Be certain that your home has a working fire/carbon monoxide detector with a battery backup.
If the power goes out, and you have no heat in your home, causing your water pipes to freeze and burst, the resulting damage may be covered by your home insurance. There are always exclusions surrounding water damage, so it’s necessary to read the fine print. The main exclusion here is if you’ve been away for a specific length of time during the winter, often as little as four days, you need to make sure the heat is being maintained in your home.
Some companies require your home to be checked daily by someone to ensure heat is being maintained. Others have less rigid restrictions. There is usually an option to turn off the water and drain the pipes if you don’t want to worry about the heat going out. Other water damage, such as coastal flooding is not usually covered by insurers in Canada. Recently, some types of flood coverage have become more available. Check with your insurance company to see if they provide flood coverage.
Any heavy rainstorm could be too much for municipal storm sewers to handle. Consider installing a backwater valve if you live in an area prone to water backups. Also, if you have large trees in your neighbourhood, roots can grow into sewer lines, causing a blockage during a heavy rainstorm. Water backup is usually included in, or can be added to, your policy.
If a huge snowstorm causes snow and ice to pile up on your roof, it can mean an awful lot of extra weight. In Canada, most home insurance providers give you the option of adding ice and snow damage insurance to your policy, while some include it automatically. Remember, as mentioned above, if your roof is nearing its life expectancy, or is in poor repair, your settlement could be limited. The resultant damage to the inside of your home will also be covered by most home insurance policies.
You won’t be able to assess the full damage done until the storm is over. However, a power outage can affect the way you cope with the storm. Take note of these safety tips for power outages:
Get out of town. If you have young children or elderly relatives living with you, consider going to a hotel or finding lodgings with heat and electricity for the duration of the outage.
Layer up. If you remain in an unheated home, dress in multiple layers for warmth and marshal all of your blankets and afghans for added comfort.
Stuff it. Bundle towels or rags along the door creases to prevent additional frigid air from entering.
Breath cleanly. Do not use natural gas, propane or charcoal barbecues indoors for heating or cooking; they transmit carbon monoxide gas, which is poisonous and can kill you.
Right lights. Use flashlights, rather than candles, for light to eliminate fire risks.
Drips and drops. Leave a few taps dripping to prevent pipes from freezing.
Pull the plug. Unplug appliances that aren’t in use, such as the stove and the television, to mitigate the drain on the electrical system when the power is restored.
Fire safety. If you’re using a fireplace to stay warm, make sure the screen is in place. Don’t burn paper, because flaming paper can waft up the chimney and set the roof on fire. A burning house isn’t the best way to stay warm!
Food safety. According to the Canada Food Inspection Agency, a full freezer keeps food frozen for about 48 hours; a half-full freezer does the same for about 24 hours. After that, your food will spoil. If it’s cold enough, however, you can remove the contents to a balcony to stay fresh.
Generator guff. If you are using a generator to power appliances or heat your home, don’t operate it near your windows or in your garage where its poisonous exhaust could pose a danger.
Cellphone conservation. Since your cellphone may be your lifeline to the outside world, don’t use battery power needlessly. Turn down screen brightness and turn off functions that are power hogs, such as WIFI and Bluetooth.
Check and doublecheck. Touch base with elderly neighbours or other vulnerable people you know to be sure they are safe.
In addition to damage that may happen to your home or property, you’ll also want to consider the following components of your home insurance policy:
If your home is damaged by an insured peril, like windstorm, burst pipes, or the weight of ice and snow, and you need to move into a hotel while repairs are being done, you’ll likely receive some assistance from your insurer. Additional living expense insurance covers your increase in living expenses, such as the cost of the hotel room, and the increase in food expense due to eating in restaurants. This is sometimes included in policies, and other times can be added as an optional coverage.
Any damage to your home will be subject to a deductible. Deductibles can range from $250 to $5,000. This is another good reason to make sure your roof is well maintained, and kept clear of snow.
When a storm threatens to come your way, you’ll need to batten down the hatches as well as you can, but some things are beyond your control. Check with your insurance provider to make sure you have the best coverage available. If the worst happens, and a tornado or other windstorm hits your area, the right home insurance policy will give you the coverage you need to get your home back.
Want to learn more? Visit our Home and Personal Safety resource centre to find more information about protecting your family and your home. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.
About the expert: Jackie Kloosterboer
Jackie Kloosterboer runs a speaking business called Survive It. As a disaster preparedness expert, Jackie facilitates upwards of 100 preparedness workshops annually to individuals and groups, working with them to prepare for whatever disaster comes their way. Jackie is the recipient of the Queens Jubilee Award and the Northwest Preparedness Society Award of Excellence, recognizing outstanding dedication to providing emergency support services and disaster preparedness education.
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