Canada experiences a wide range of wind events, from microbursts to tornadoes to hurricanes. While scientists don’t yet fully understand the link between tornadoes and climate change, studies are showing an increase in strength and density.
And, with population and development increasing in at-risk areas, tornado and severe wind activity has serious implications for Canadians, according to the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR). While there’s not much that can be done to prevent wind activity, homeowners and business owners should be taking steps to protect themselves and minimize damage to their property.
Canada experiences more tornadoes than any other country except the U.S. (with 80 on average, per year). “Extreme tornadoes can easily uproot trees, flip cars, and demolish houses with wind speeds of more than 480 km/h. They can stretch more than three kilometres across and travel more than 100 km,” according to the ICLR.
Tornado ‘season’ takes place between April and September, peaking in June and July, but tornadoes and severe windstorms can occur at any time of year, anywhere in Canada. However, they’re most common in the British Columbia interior, southern areas of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, as well as western New Brunswick.
A recent report by the Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP), a partnership between Western University and social impact fund ImpactWX to better detect tornado occurrence throughout Canada, verified 100 tornadoes countrywide last year. NTP collaborates closely with Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, Instant Weather, and CatIQ.
The NTP report found that only 12 per cent of tornadoes in Canada were preceded by a tornado warning from Environment Canada – and over 70 per cent struck with no tornado warning at all. So how can businesses prepare for violent wind events, especially if they aren’t warned?
“It’s prudent for everybody to be prepared for these types of events, especially if you’re located in an area subject to tornadoes and strong winds, like southern Alberta,” says John McCreedy, Risk Services Manager, P&C Western Region, with Northbridge Insurance.
Here are some tips on how to prepare for a tornado, what to do if there is a tornado, and steps to recover afterward.
“If you have policies and procedures in place and contingency plans for business continuity, that could save you a lot of grief after an event,” says McCreedy.
Go over those policies and procedures with staff at least quarterly (or every month, if you’re in a high-risk area) and run practice drills. Make sure you’ve compiled an up-to-date emergency contact list and that all documents are stored in a safe spot.
A simple way to protect your building from a tornado or violent wind event is to stay on top of maintenance. For example, fix loose shingles on your roof and repair any cracks on siding, doors, and windows. “If you have a cracked window, if a windstorm comes along there’s a good chance that window is going to be smashed,” he says.
If you’re located in a tornado-prone area, like southern Alberta, there are comprehensive steps you can take to prepare for a violent wind event:
- Ensure your roofing and siding is rated for severe winds
- If you have a gable roof, make sure it’s properly braced
- Ensure ridge vents and soffits are tightly connected to the roof
- Make sure doors are pressure and impact rated (including garage doors)
- Securely anchor utility sheds and storage areas
- If you’re rebuilding or renovating, consider hurricane straps on your rafters
During a tornado
Stay on top of weather alerts — on your phone, the radio, or TV, so you know if there’s a tornado warning and if you should take cover (you probably won’t have much notice).
“One of the simplest things you can do — and it’s free — is to close all your windows and doors. If the wind comes through the window it changes the pressure inside your building and that’s when your roof starts to lift,” says McCreedy. That includes closing any fresh air vents.
Turn off the gas and electricity, if you can. “If the storm knocks out a gas line and that causes a spark, then wind is the least of your worries,” he says.
If you’ve been running regular practice drills with your staff, it can help to minimize panic during an actual event. “The number one thing you want to protect is your staff,” says McCreedy. “Have lines of communication open. Make sure you have emergency kits and people know what to do.”
After a tornado
One of the first calls you should make after a tornado or violent wind event is to your insurance broker, who can advise you on next steps. Also stay in constant communication with employees, customers, and local authorities.
No one should enter a damaged building until it’s been cleared by local authorities, especially if a roof has been lifted off or power lines are down. “You’ll want to make sure the site is 100 per cent safe before anyone goes back inside,” says McCreedy. “The fire department may need to inspect the site and make sure no gas is leaking into the building.”
While you may not be able to avoid a tornado or violent wind event, being prepared can ease the recovery process. For example, having a business continuity plan in place — so employees can work from home and/or customers can order products online — can help to avoid further losses to the business.
“Knowing what to do before an event takes place, during an event, and after an event will only bode well for you,” says McCreedy. “While it’s not going to stop anything major from happening, it will help in your recovery and it could even help to save lives.”
Ensure you’re covered
Despite your best efforts, things can still go wrong. And if that happens, having the right coverage in place is vital. To learn more about how insurance can help protect your business and your bottom line, visit our business insurance page