Tornadoes and manufactured homes: an unfortunate combination

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In response to my blog post about tornadoes and sociology shared on Facebook a few weeks ago, Pamela P. said:

When it comes to tornados, I always wish we had sirens. But because that’s not feasible, at the very least they should be installed in every trailer park, along with a storm cellar. Most people of a certain income can be warned through news, social media, cell phones, radio, etc. However, those who live in the flimsiest of housing have the most to fear (trailer parks are always decimated in a tornado), and they are also the hardest to warn. They may not have access to any of the devices mentioned above, and they have a higher chance of not speaking English. Why not pass a law requiring a siren and a storm shelter in every trailer park? Those are just my thoughts. Thanks!

destroyed mobile home

National Weather Service photo: Mobile home in Henry County, Alabama, was flipped and destroyed by an EF-1 tornado while residents took shelter in a near by home.

I agree, Pamela! I have always thought sirens and storm shelters should be required for manufactured housing communities. Truly, I wish there were a safer option in affordable housing for those who live there. Manufactured homes are unsafe in tornadoes, and as importantly, they are unsafe in high-speed straight-line winds as well because they roll easily. So, severe thunderstorms with 70 to 80 mph winds can be just as dangerous to people who live in mobile homes.

A weak tornado of the Enhanced Fujita Scale category of one (EF-1) with 86 to 110 mph winds can push mobile homes off their foundations or completely overturn them. An EF-2 with winds of 111 to 135 mph can demolish one completely. In contrast, an EF-1 tornado would damage roofs of frame houses, and an EF-2 could tear roofs completely off, yet the majority of the structures would still remain intact — assuming they were built sturdily and to code.

So far this year, of the 27 fatalities caused by tornadoes, 17 have been in manufactured houses, seven have been in stick-built houses, two have been outside, and one was inside a vehicle. These numbers are tragic and far too high to begin with, and when you think about how having a reliable hyperlocal warning system and safe, sturdy shelter may have helped save even a couple of them, the situation is even sadder.

Now, I am not saying that I know the situation in each fatality location. Maybe the people received the warnings and chose not to act upon them — that does happen sometimes. Typically though, I choose to believe that when given an urgent, timely warning, if there is a safe place to go, people will wisely opt to shelter there.