If it seems like thunderstorms occur more frequently and intensely than they used to, that may be due to the understandable hype concerning SuperStorm Sandy and other recent destructive storms, like the tornadoes in Moore, Okla. "Despite the heightened level of thunderstorm activity since mid-May in the United States, it has actually been a rather quiet year in terms of overall events," says Steve Bowen, a senior scientist and meteorologist for Impact Forecasting, the catastrophe modeling arm of reinsurance intermediary Aon Benfield.
Thunderstorms do seem to be evolving, however, if not actually coming at us faster and more furiously, according to Stu Ostro, a senior meteorologist at The Weather Channel. Ostro says he isn't aware of an increase in the number of thunderstorms throughout the year, but "there is some evidence, which merits further study, of a change in the nature of tornado and severe thunderstorm outbreaks during the late autumn and winter, with many of them in the past decade or so seeming to have occurred relatively far north compared to where they typically have been in the past."
We may not be in the midst of a thunderstorm-tornado-hurricane apocalypse, but you don't want to be the homeowner unlucky enough to have a maple tree crash into your dining room or wade into a flooded basement because your sump pump went out after a major storm. So if you think your house could be better prepared to withstand the onslaught of a summer storm, here are some things to consider – before and after the rain.
Check your insurance. Do this long before a storm. What should you look for? Josh Noel, owner of Quality Roofing in Colorado Springs, Colo., says homeowners should check to see if they have an ACV or RCV policy. "The first one is actual cash value, which means your insurance company only pays for what your property was worth before the storm, which is not a good policy," Noel says. "RCV is replacement cost value, which means your insurance pays current market value of the property loss."
Even if a roofer like Noel has incentive for potential customers to have the best insurance out there, he still has a good point. If you bought your house in 1986, you don't want to be paying for a roof in 1986 dollars.
And, of course, you never think you'll need insurance until one day you do. John Scroggin's experience illustrates why it's important to be insured. On June 13, when storms rolled into Roswell, Ga., the 61-year-old lawyer was on his way home from a meeting with a client and decided to stop at his office, which employs five people and is in a historic house that was built in 1883.
"An oak tree, 300 years or older, decided to take up residence in my office's conference room," Scroggin says.
After quickly surveying the damage, Scroggin drove to his residence, where he fortunately found his family in good shape, but the tops of about 20 trees had rained onto his house and two-car garage. Fortunately, he was well-insured and had a disaster crew at his office 90 minutes after the tree fell, working until 4 a.m., cleaning everything and securing the law firm.
For obvious reasons, if you know exactly where your policy is, you may save some time in the event that your house is damaged.
Check your trees. Scroggin says the oak tree showed no visible signs of damage. But the clues are sometimes there, says Scott Spencer, a worldwide appraisal and loss prevention manager at Chubb Personal Insurance.
"Do your trees have good, solid leaf cover everywhere?" Spencer asks, when discussing the signs of a future fallen tree. "If you see at the top that the branches are bare, that could be an indication of a health problem. Is the land uneven around your trees, where you have a hump or pivot on one side of the tree? You might have a root problem that could eventually cause the tree to fall over."
Other clues include a lot of dead wood on the trees and large hollows, Spencer says.