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Understanding Straight Line Wind Risk

Updated: Jul 3

Understanding Straight Line Wind Risk

Investing in property can be a lucrative endeavor, but not without its share of risks. Among the many natural threats that have the potential to cause significant damage, straight line winds are a severe and often underestimated force to be reckoned with. For property investors, understanding this risk is not just a matter of safety; it's a means of protecting investment portfolios and making informed decisions.

In this detailed guide, we'll explore what straight line winds are, where they commonly occur, how they differ from other wind-related disasters, and most importantly, how investors can protect their assets against these powerful natural phenomena.

What Are Straight Line Winds?

Straight line winds are gusts that come from a consistently advancing direction. Unlike tornados, which are characterized by rotating winds, straight line winds move in -- you guessed it -- a straight line. They can be incredibly strong, often exceeding 100 miles per hour, and are capable of causing severe damage, on par with the destruction of a weaker tornado.

What Causes Straight Line Winds?

These winds are commonly associated with the outflow of thunderstorms, particularly those with a downdraft of dry air, which accelerates as it reaches the ground and spreads out in all directions. The phenomenon often occurs alongside heavy precipitation, but it's not the rain that does the damage; it's the wind and the pressure that it exerts on structures.

Within the larger category of straight line winds, property investors and property owners in high-risk areas should also be aware of microbursts and derechos, which are intense, widespread windstorms that are often associated with severe convective thunderstorms.

What Kinds of Damage Can Straight Line Winds Cause?

Straight line winds can affect any structure, but their particular danger lies in their ability to impact relatively larger areas than tornadoes. They're more likely to hit in more congested areas, which can lead to a higher number of structures being affected.

Patterns of destruction often align with the direction of the winds, with damage usually being identified linearly. They're known for uprooting trees, toppling powerlines, and causing significant damage to roofs, siding, and structures that aren't adequately braced for such forces.

Protecting Property Against Straight Line Wind Damage

Investors and property owners should never underestimate the potential of straight-line winds to cause property damage. Here's what you can do to protect your property:

Structural Integrity and Design

Investing in well-designed, resilient structures is the most effective form of protection against severe weather conditions. Key aspects include:

  • Roof Systems Bracing: Ensuring adequate bracing of roof systems to prevent collapse during high winds. This involves using hurricane straps and clips that secure the roof to the walls.

  • Strong Foundations: Building with strong foundations that can withstand the lateral forces exerted by high winds. This may involve deep footings and reinforced concrete.

  • Material Selection: Choosing materials capable of enduring the pressure of severe weather. For example, opting for reinforced steel, concrete, and impact-resistant windows.

Modern building codes aim to mitigate these risks, but exceeding these requirements can provide even greater protection. Consider consulting with structural engineers to evaluate and enhance the resilience of your property. Ensuring that your roof is fortified is crucial in mitigating the risk of extreme property damage following a wind storm. Your roof plays a crucial role as the primary defense during high-wind events:

  • Re-affix Loose Shingles: Regularly inspect your roof for loose shingles and ensure they are securely re-affixed. Loose shingles can easily become projectiles during storms.

  • Impact-Resistant Shingles: Opt for installing impact-resistant shingles that are designed to withstand hail and debris impacts, thus reducing the likelihood of roof penetration.

  • Roof Strappings: Install strappings to anchor the roof framing to the wall framings. These strappings, often made of metal, help prevent the wind from lifting the roof off of the house. This small investment can significantly enhance the structural integrity of your home.

Regular maintenance and inspections can identify potential weak spots before they become major issues.

Landscaping for Protection

Believe it or not, the trees and shrubs surrounding your property can act as both protectors and projectiles during straight-line wind events. Regular maintenance is key:

  • Trimming Branches: Regularly trim branches to prevent them from breaking and causing damage during high winds. Focus on dead or overhanging limbs that are more likely to break.

  • Removing Weak Trees: Identify and remove weak or diseased trees that could fall during a storm. These trees can cause significant damage if they collapse onto structures.

  • Tree Placement: Follow FEMA's recommendation of keeping residential properties at least a full-grown tree’s height (about 40 feet) away from the base of any tree. This distance helps ensure that falling trees do not hit your home.

Additionally, a well-maintained and thoughtfully landscaped area can enhance overall property value and be a selling point for tenants and buyers. Consider creating windbreaks with strategically planted trees and shrubs to reduce wind speed and protect your property further.

Insurance and Risk Mitigation

For investors, having the right insurance is essential. Straight-line winds are generally covered under standard home and business insurance policies, but coverage can vary:

  • Review Policies: Understand your policy thoroughly. Read the fine print to know what is covered and what isn't, and make sure that wind damage is explicitly included.

  • High-Deductible Windstorm Insurance: In high-risk areas, it might be necessary to invest in high-deductible windstorm insurance. This type of insurance covers damage specifically caused by high winds and can be crucial in areas prone to hurricanes and tornadoes.

  • Discuss Strategies: Talk to your insurance provider about risk-mitigation strategies. They can offer advice on additional coverage options, discounts for making your property more resilient, and steps you can take to lower your premiums.

Proper planning and maintenance can significantly reduce the potential damage caused by high wind events. Ensure that you have an emergency plan in place, and keep copies of your insurance policies and important documents in a safe, accessible location.

Straight Line Wind Risk Assessment in Real Estate Investment

Straight line winds are an often overlooked yet prevalent risk to property investors, particularly in certain regions. Understanding the causes, differences from tornadoes, and steps to reduce their impact on property are crucial for asset protection. Investors and property owners in high-risk areas should prioritize structural integrity, landscaping maintenance, and proper insurance coverage. Additionally, there are many steps that commercial property investors can take to manage commercial property wind damage.

Before investing into a property, conducting a thorough risk assessment is the foundation of a solid investment strategy. Considerations should include the physical location of the property concerning past storm activity, the age and condition of the structure, and any previous damage history. Assessment tools such as historical weather data and consulting with meteorologists can provide valuable insights into what kind of weather risks a property faces. 

LandGate's proprietary data for risk index scores for a piece of property

LandApp can help prospective property owners assess any property's straight line wind risk with our Risk Indexes. For just $16 per month when billed monthly or $10 per month when billed annually, LandApp can be used to evaluate various types of property risks.


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