Special Report: Putting Severe Weather to The Test

(Bloomington, IL)--Tornado season usually ramps up in May. But just this week alone, a deadly outbreak rocked the country fast and furious.
One insurance research lab in Bloomington, Illinois focuses on tornadoes, hurricanes, and hail storms much of the time. I recently traveled to this facility where severe weather is constantly put to the test in an effort to keep us all safe.

At State Farm’s Technology Research and Innovation Laboratory, or TRAIL, it’s a dedication to saving property and lives when the weather turns severe. Researchers create dangerous conditions in a controlled environment. Or as I put it, controlled chaos. One highlight is the air canon. It shoots 2 x 4’s, 9 pounds each, traveling at rates of 34 mph. This is roughly the speed a hundred mile per hour wind will push loose a 2 x 4. The test shows how damage-resistant windows can protect your home much more than standard windows by keeping the wind and rain out of where you live.

Researcher John Donovan is our tour guide of sorts. He's been here 15 years. He certainly keeps me busy during my day long visit. Another simulation John shows me is the use of different hail stones to test the durability of a roof.

Hail and wind damage, at least according to State Farm, accounted for more than $3 billion in claims nationally just last year. Wisconsin and nearby states made the top 20 list. Tornadoes have also killed more than 500 people over the last 100 years in the Badger state. These staggering stats demonstrate how important mitigating, or properly reinforcing, your home can be. Something apparently a lot of us overlook when we build. And I’m told it's the simple, little things you might not even think about, like using bolts and brackets, to help clamp down a roof or maybe secure a wall. This can make all the difference in the world. In many situations, at a lower cost too.

Those working at TRAIL constantly have to keep testing and reinventing. They say it’s all about staying ahead of the curve as best you can. This, in turn, makes for safer, more affordable housing.

The storm resistant items featured in this story, like the windows and aspault roofing, can run 15% higher in cost. But the belief is the rate of return will be so much greater in the long run, even with older homes you may be retrofitting.

To find out more about the State Farm research storm lab and the \"seal of approval\" it gives to some building products, visit www.statefarm.com & www.flash.org.

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