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Top 10 costliest U.S. tornado catastrophes

The United States experiences more tornadoes than any other country

The aftermath of a powerful tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri in 2011. (Photo: Shutterstock)
The aftermath of a powerful tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri in 2011. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Tornadoes often strike quickly and with little or no warning. Do you and your insurance clients know the potential warning signs of an approaching twister?

Take shelter immediately if you observe a dark, greenish sky; large hail; a large, dark, low-lying cloud; or a powerful freight train-like roar.

Violent storms


Tornadoes are one of nature's most violent storms. Every year, extremely high winds from tornadoes destroy homes, businesses and entire communities. Winds can also destroy bridges, flip trains, send cars and trucks flying and tear the bark off trees. 

Related: 6 ways to tornado-proof your home

Tornadoes accounted for 40.2 percent of insured catastrophe losses from 1996 to 2015 in the United States, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) and Verisk’s Property Claim Services (PCS).

The average tornado has maximum wind speeds of about 112 mph, measures around 250 feet in width and travels approximately one mile before falling apart, according to the educational website Live Science. Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., but can occur at any time, Ready.gov reports.

Some of the most catastrophic tornadoes in recorded history have had winds in excess of 300 miles an hour (twice that of a category 5 hurricane), have measured more than 2 miles in width and have cut devastating paths of destruction for miles and miles.

Most tornado victims are struck by flying debris — roofing shingles, broken glass, doors and metal rods, National Geographic notes.

2017 very active 


Already in 2017, preliminary NOAA reports show that there were about 367 tornadoes in January-March 2017, compared with 205 in the same period in 2016. The early 2017 tornadoes killed 24 people in January and February 2017.

Related: Another tornado record's in sight for U.S. as thunderstorms boom

May was the top month for tornadoes in 2015, with 381 confirmed twisters.

Based on PCA data through May 31, 2016, here are the 10 costliest U.S. catrostophes involving tornadoes:

Workers cleanup houses in this tornado-damaged neighborhood

Workers cleanup houses in this tornado-damaged neighborhood, Friday, April 14, 2006, in Iowa City, Iowa. The Thursday night tornado damaged area homes and businesses, but there were few reports of injuries. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

10. April 13-15, 2006


Location: Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Estimated insured loss (when occurred): $1,850 million.

Estimated insured loss (in 2015 dollars): $2,142 million.

Related: 5 things to do to prepare for tornado season

 tornado hit Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Gene Cavender carries items from what's left of the home of his wife's aunt after a tornado hit Murfreesboro, Tenn., Sunday, April 28, 2002. At least two dozen people were injured and 62 buildings damaged. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

9. April 27-May 3, 2002


Location: Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

Estimated insured loss (when occurred): $1,675 million.

Estimated insured loss (in 2015 dollars): $2,162 million.

tornado damaged blue house

(Photo: Shutterstock)

8. May 12-16, 2010


Location: Illinois, Maryland, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Estimated insured loss (when occurred): $2,000 million.

Estimated insured loss (in 2015 dollars): $2,169 million.

Related: Oklahoma family gets keys to first FORTIFIED Home

tornado damaged brick house

(Photo: Shutterstock)

7. April 28-29, 2012


Location: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and Texas.

Estimated insured loss (when occurred): $2,500 million.

Estimated insured loss (in 2015 dollars): $2,608 million.

FEMA official inspects tornado damage in Mosco, Ohio

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official Carolyn Deming inspects tornado damage, Tuesday, March 6, 2012, in Moscow, Ohio. A tornado destroyed much of the town Friday. (AP Photo/Al Behrman).

6. March 2-3, 2012


Location: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

Estimated insured loss (when occurred): $2,500 million.

Estimated insured loss (in 2015 dollars): $2,608 million.

Related: 8 steps toward creating a tornado preparation and response plan

The steeple of Westside Church in Omaha, Neb., leans at an angle

The steeple of Westside Church in Omaha, Neb., leans at an angle Saturday April 7, 2001 after gusts of nearly 70 miles per hour ripped through eastern Nebraska overnight, damaging homes and knocking out electric service. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

5. April 6-12, 2001


Location: Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.

Estimated insured loss (when occurred): $2,200 million.

Estimated insured loss (in 2015 dollars): $2,884 million.

Damage to two homes after two tornadoes touched down in northern Arizona

Damage to homes after two tornadoes touched down in northern Arizona early Wednesday Oct. 6, 2010 in Bellemont, Ariz. (AP Photo/Mike Meadows)

4. Oct. 4-6, 2010


Location: Arizona.

Estimated insured loss (when occurred): $2,700 million.

Estimated insured loss (in 2015 dollars): $2,928 million.

Related: 5 secrets to improving customer service after a catastrophe

A stop sign is wrapped around a post with tornado damage and debris in the background in Stockton, Mo.

A stop sign is wrapped around a post with tornado damage and debris in the background in Stockton, Mo., Monday, May 5, 2003. Stockton is located in southwest Missouri. (AP Photo/James A. Finley)

3. May 2-11, 2003


Location: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee.

Estimated insured loss (when occurred): $3,205 million.

Estimated insured loss (in 2015 dollars): $4,056 million.

residents walk in the street after a massive tornado hit Joplin, Mo.

In this May 22, 2011, file photo residents walk in the street after a massive tornado hit Joplin, Mo. A sky-darkening storm was working its way into southwest Missouri around dinnertime on a Sunday evening of May 22, 2011, zeroing in on the city of Joplin. As storm sirens blared, one of the nation's deadliest tornados hit — leveling a miles-wide swath of Joplin and leaving 161 people dead. (AP Photo/Mike Gullett, File)

2. May 20-27, 2011


Location: Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Estimated insured loss (when occurred): $6,900 million.

Estimated insured loss (in 2015 dollars): $7,332 million.

The second costliest U.S. catastrophe involving tornadoes struck Joplin, Missouri, and other locations in May 2011. An EF5 tornado up to a mile-wide left a six-mile long gash in the city of Joplin, Missouri, on May 22, 2011. Packing estimated winds over 200 mph, the Joplin tornado was the deadliest single tornado in the U.S. since 1947.

 water tower stands amid tornado damage in Hackleburg, Ala.

In this April 29, 2011 file photo, a water tower stands amid the damage in Hackleburg, Ala. On April 27, 2011, a series of tornadoes killed hundreds of people, injured thousands and reduced countless buildings to rubble across a swath of the U.S. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

1. April 22-28, 2011


Location: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Estimated insured loss (when occurred): $7,300 million.

Estimated insured loss (in 2015 dollars): $7,757 million.

The costliest U.S. catastrophe involving tornadoes occurred in April 2011, when a spate of twisters hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and other areas. The weather event was the 10th costliest U.S. catastrophe, based on insured losses, according to PCS. 

Related: Helping homeowners recover after natural disasters

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