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Understanding Straight Line Wind Risk

Updated: Mar 21

Photograph of wind damage to a brown roof that is missing shingles

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 they exert 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 in a linear fashion. 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. This includes adequate bracing of roof systems, strong foundations, and choosing materials that can withstand the pressure of high winds. Modern building codes are designed to mitigate such risks, but going above and beyond these requirements can make a significant difference.

Ensuring that your roof is fortified is crucial in mitigating the risk of extreme property damage following a wind storm because your roof plays a crucial role as the primary defense during high wind events. Ensure to re-affix any loose shingles and opt for impact-resistant shingles when installing. Additionally, secure the roof by installing strappings that anchor the roof framing to the wall framings, preventing the wind from lifting your roof off your house.

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, including the trimming of branches, can prevent debris from causing damage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that residential properties are at least a full-grown tree’s height away from the base of any tree, usually about 40 feet away. Additionally, in terms of overall property value, having a well-maintained and thoughtfully landscaped area can also be a selling point for tenants and buyers.

Insurance and Risk Mitigation

For investors, the right insurance is essential. Straight line winds are typically covered as a part of standard home and business insurance policies, but coverage can vary, and high-deductible windstorm insurance may be necessary in high-risk areas. Understanding your policy and discussing risk-mitigation strategies with your insurance provider is crucial.

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 in relation to 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. 

screenshot of LandGate data

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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