Canadian Underwriter

Insured losses from Georgia storms estimated at $75 million

February 4, 2013   by Canadian Underwriter

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Georgia’s insurance and safety fire commissioner has announced the tornadoes that struck the state last Wednesday caused an estimated $75 million in insured losses.


“That figure will rise as new claims are reported,” Ralph Hudgens said in a statement late last week. “Damage to the Daiki Corporation manufacturing plant in Adairsville (60 miles north of Atlanta) was quite extensive,” Hudgens noted in a statement from Georgia’s Office of Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner.

On Feb. 1, Hudgens reported that a team of insurance specialists was being sent to several counties, including Bartow and Gordon, to aid storm victims. “Representatives of my office will be surveying storm damage areas and will offer insurance claims assistance to affected citizens,” he said.

A team of meteorologists from the National Weather Service (NWS) in Peachtree City, Ga. has surveyed the damage caused by a supercell thunderstorm that tracked across northwest of Bartow and central Gordon counties. The estimated peak wind speed for the Adairsville tornado – which lasted from about 11:12 am to 11:43 am – was 160 mph with a path width of 900 yards. One person died as a result.

The tornado had a rating of high end EF-3. The Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale classifies tornadoes in the following categories: EF1 – weak, 65 to 85 mph; EF1 – weak, 86 to 110 mph; EF2 – strong, 111 to 135 mph; EF3 – strong, 136 to 165 mph; EF4 – violent, 166 to 200 mph; and EF 5 – violent, 200-plus mph.

In Bartow County, at least 95 structures were damaged, with 31 destroyed, 17 sustaining major damage and 47 sustaining minor damage, notes a statement from the NWS. “Most of the damage was a result of trees falling on homes in downtown Adairsville,” the statement adds.

The NWS reports that in Gordon County, 268 homes structures were affected, with 30 completely destroyed, 110 sustaining major damage and 70 sustaining minor damage.

In the days leading up to the event, record warmth and temperatures on Jan. 29 and 30 clashed with colder air with temperatures well below freezing, the weather service notes in its Jan. 30 summary of tornado and severe weather event for Peachtree City, Ga. “This clash of temperatures set the stage for a multi-state, long-duration severe weather event that would produce widespread wind damage and several significant tornadoes across the local area.”

One parameter stood out as being extremely unusual in terms of strength. “Winds were forecast to be between 55 and 65 mph for this event, which means we were expecting very strong winds within a few thousand feet off the ground,” the summary notes. “Being so close to the ground, these winds would be able to reach the surface and were largely independent of the individual storm strength, meaning severe winds would be possible regardless of the storm intensity.”

The tornadoes occurred one day after Hudgens offered tips in advance of Severe Weather Awareness Week in Georgia, which runs this year from Feb. 4-8. The statement offered insurance reminders and tips on how homeowners can protect their property from tornadoes, flooding and other weather-related hazards, including the following.

  • While a standard homeowner’s insurance policy covers damage from high winds and tornadoes, it does not cover damage from flooding. A standard mobile home policy can cover damage caused by floods.
  • Make a list of all valuables, furniture, electronics, etc., and photograph or videotape possessions. Keep copies of the list, photographs and videotape in a safe place outside the home.
  • If disaster strikes, contact your agent or insurance company immediately.
  • Protect property from further damage. For example, if a roof is damaged, blown off or has been punctured by a tree, the affected area should be covered with a tarp or plywood to protect property from further damage, such as water damage from subsequent rain.
  • Ensure you have an understanding of the difference between actual cash value and replacement cost coverage for contents, and obtain the coverage best suited to your needs.

“While tornadoes can occur at any time of year if atmospheric conditions are right, March, April and May are considered prime months for tornadoes to strike,” the statement notes. Tornadoes in late April 2011, for example, caused severe damage across 21 states, including Georgia, killing more than 300 people.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) notes in a January 2012 report that data from the Storm Prediction Center indicated the count of preliminary tornado reports during that month, at 95, was much above the 1991-2010 average of 35. Most of the tornadoes occurred in two outbreaks.

“January tornadoes are unusual, but are certainly not unheard of, and there is high variability in tornado occurrences during the cool season, especially in January,” the report states. “Several Januarys have no reported tornadoes, while January 1999 had over 100 confirmed tornadoes.”