Tornado fatalities and mobile homes in the United States

Abstract

Fatalities from tornadoes have declined dramatically over the last century in the United States. Despite the overall reduction in tornado lethality, fatalities from mobile homes remain high. In fact, research suggests that the likelihood of a fatality in a mobile home is ten times or more than that in a permanent home. This study examines possible explanations of the mobile home tornado problem, including the potential for concentration of these homes in tornado prone states, the relation to Fujita Scale rating, and incidence during the day. We find that mobile home fatalities are concentrated in the Southeastern US, significantly more likely in weaker tornadoes, and occur disproportionately at night.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The term manufactured home refers to factory as opposed to site built homes, and the older term mobile homes refer to homes capable of being moved. In tornado research the terms are used interchangeably. We will use the more popular term mobile home instead of the industry’s preferred term of manufactured home.

  2. 2.

    De Alessi (1996) criticizes the unconvincing evidence of economic benefits from HUD’s 1994 wind load provisions. Given the lower income of mobile home household, regulations that add costs without corresponding benefits impose a particularly heavy burden on relatively low income households, similar to a regressive tax.

  3. 3.

    The Fujita scale rates tornado damage on a scale from F0 (weakest) to F5 (strongest). An F0 is a minimal tornado that causes light damage, while and F5 tornado causes “incredible” damage including well built homes swept off their foundations and cars thrown more than 100 m. A description on the Fujita scale and the Enhanced Fujita scale can be found at http://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/f-scale.html.

  4. 4.

    The archive is available at http://www.spc.noaa.gov/archive.

  5. 5.

    Except for the lowest fatality rate states, because eight states had no fatalities over the period, and all eight are included in our least vulnerable states.

  6. 6.

    The states with the percentage of parks surveyed reporting shelters and underground shelters, respectively were Alabama (15% shelters, 7% underground), Arkansas (35%, 15%), Florida (27%,0%), Georgia (12%, 5%), Illinois (22%, 8%), Indiana (22%, 10%), Kansas (80%, 60%), Mississippi (15%, 10%), Missouri (40%, 25%), and Oklahoma (76%, 66%).

  7. 7.

    The data set is constructed based on the Storm Prediction Center tornado archive, which includes one entry for each state struck by a tornado. Thus tornadoes which struck more than one state have multiple entries, and thus the total of 15,056 tornadoes refers to the tornado segments within each state.

  8. 8.

    Census annual population estimates and Small Area Income Estimates are used to construct population density and income variables for tornadoes since 2000. The proportion of mobile homes for tornadoes since 2000 is from the 2000 Census. The Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers (CPI-U) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is used to adjust for inflation.

  9. 9.

    Hammer and Schmidlin (2002) documented that many people fled the path of the May 3, 1999 Oklahoma City F5 tornado in their vehicles. Conceivably mobile home residents might be less likely to leave in cars at night due to an inability to see and thus move away from an approaching tornado.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Brent McAloney of NOAA for supplying us with tornado fatality location records and two referees for comments which have improved the paper.

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Correspondence to Daniel Sutter.

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Sutter, D., Simmons, K.M. Tornado fatalities and mobile homes in the United States. Nat Hazards 53, 125–137 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9416-x

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Keywords

  • Tornadoes
  • Mobile homes
  • Fatalities
  • Injuries