Sunshine After the Storm

By Gwendy Schulte, AIC, SCLA

On July 20, 2023, the northern section of Georgia suffered severe weather. I was finishing up dinner when I heard the storm sirens in my area go off. I looked out my back window and it was a beautiful, sunny day. Maybe I was imagining the sirens, so I went to the back door and opened it so I could hear it more clearly. It wouldn’t have been the first time that I mistook an ambulance for the weather sirens! I was met with a blast of incredibly hot, moist air. I knew there was something serious on the way. We lost power a few minutes later.

I noticed clouds were racing across the sky, and within moments it began raining. I went back inside and looked out the rear window to discover a 100’ tall pine tree being thrown around like a rag doll, eventually falling from my yard across my neighbor’s back yard. At that moment the back yard exploded with flying debris – the tops of trees came crashing down and tree limbs were flying sideways. When I realized the magnitude of what had just happened, I went to the front door to find that a large hardwood had toppled over, taking the tops of three other trees down with it. When the wind and rain calmed down, I grabbed an umbrella, put on my shoes, and went outside to see how much damage there was. The road in front of my house was blocked by the top of the tree. The 7’ tall root ball to the largest tree was standing straight up! The entire storm lasted no more than 10 minutes. The sun returned as if nothing had happened.

An hour later I heard chainsaws in the neighborhood. To my surprise, the neighbors had gotten together and were cutting up the tree to clear the roadway in front of my house. I spent an hour talking to them. There were two little girls who told me how they had gone into their basement when the storm began. It occurred to me that they were smarter than I was. I stood mesmerized at my back window, waiting for the roar of a train that never came. The simple act of neighbors coming together to help me get the tree off the road affirmed that in times of trouble, strangers will reach out with a helping hand to those in need.

My power was restored within 12 hours. Cable, internet, and phone service were restored 4 days later. The following day my tree company was able to clear up the largest amount of the debris. It took three men, a commercial chipper, and a tractor 6 hours to clear up the debris. Others were not so lucky. Over the coming days I learned that one of my neighbors lost their house when two large trees crushed their home. Another neighbor’s dog was caught in the storm and lost its life. At least three major grocery stores, one exit down from where I live, lost all of their refrigerated product because they had no backup generator. The water company asked everyone to limit water use to only emergency needs as they had lost power, too. Some people were trapped in their homes or their neighborhoods for days because of fallen trees blocking access. Others lost all of their frozen food because of longer power outages. I was very lucky the trees fell away from my house instead of on my house and power was quickly restored!

During the winter when there are news reports of a pending ice or snowstorm, everyone scrambles to stop at the grocery store on the way home to stock up (and clear out) the milk, eggs, bread and other convenience foods to stay fed because of the anticipated road closures. But this storm brought home to me that weather conditions during the summer are more unpredictable and can be much more dangerous. Everyone should be prepared for the unexpected. You should have a week’s worth of food and water in your home at all times. Rotate through your extra food annually so you don’t discover when you find yourself in an emergency situation that your “emergency food” has expired! Remember to include an extra bag or cans of food for your pet(s), too. Have extra, fresh batteries for your radio and flashlight. Keep some matches or lighters and candles that can be burned in safe containers or on trays for when the power goes out to avoid sitting in total darkness. Have extra medical supplies, including prescriptions, on hand for small emergencies that might come up. Make sure your supply of gas for the chainsaw is fresh and keep the batteries for your electric chainsaw charged. Always keep your cell phone charged so you can check in with family and friends to make sure they are safe. Although it sounds obsessive and silly, refill the gas tank in your car when it reaches half empty. In my case that proved to be important because while I was without power, I was using my car to recharge my cellphone. Gas stations cannot sell gas when their power is down! It doesn’t take much to be prepared for short term disruptions.

As insurance adjusters our profession ranks up there with emergency responders. I had just been through something totally unexpected, and the damage left behind seemed overwhelming. My tree service assured me they could handle removing the felled trees from my property. A simple smile, eye contact, and an action plan moving forward put my mind at ease.

The job of being an insurance adjuster can be described in one very simple statement: We are there to help our insureds. Whether you are dealing with someone who has lost their home, or a business forced to shut down, the simple act of addressing ALE so they have a safe place to lay their head or extra expense to set up temporary operations reassures them you are concerned with their welfare. Taking the time to explain additional coverages helps the insured feel more in control. You can then focus your attention on determining how to fix the “sticks and bricks” to restore their premises. Not every claim can be covered by the policy. But when you have a covered loss, you build trust with the insured when they realize you’re not just looking at the material things and they feel valued as individuals. Life is short so be prepared. Take the opportunities our profession affords us to bring a bit of sunshine into someone’s stormy day.

If you have any questions or would like to comment, please contact Gwendy Schulte at

This is a publication of Southern Loss Association, Inc., P.O. Box 421564, Atlanta, GA 30342. The articles published on this website are in a general format and are not intended to be legal advice applicable to any specific circumstances. Legal opinions may vary when based on subtle factual differences. All rights reserved.