Natural Hazards

, Volume 87, Issue 1, pp 121–143 | Cite as

US tornado fatalities in motor vehicles (1991–2015)

  • Marius J. PaulikasEmail author
  • Thomas W. Schmidlin
Original Paper


Motor vehicles historically have been dangerous locations to shelter in during tornado events. Throughout the twentieth century, motor vehicle design has become safer while tornado forecasting has become better understood. Despite such advances, tornado fatalities in motor vehicles still occur today, and some events periodically result in high numbers of deaths (e.g., ten motor vehicle occupants were killed by a single tornado in Garland, Texas, in 2015). We seek to examine all US tornado-induced motor vehicle fatalities documented between 1991 and 2015. Our findings indicate that motor vehicle fatalities have not significantly changed during this study period. We attribute annual fatality totals to persons lacking awareness of impending dangers coupled with numbers of significant tornado events for a given year. We find most fatalities result when vehicles are lofted or passengers are ejected, and this most typically occurs at the EF3–EF5 intensity thresholds. Fatalities that occur at weaker tornado winds (EF0–EF2) are most often attributed to collapsing debris (mostly trees) on vehicles. Spatially, motor vehicle fatalities are greatest in the Deep South and southern Great Plains regions where overall tornado and nighttime tornado frequencies are greatest. Some of the largest motor vehicle fatality events have resulted from tornadoes not being distinctly visible to motorists; such events have been characterized by tornadoes occurring at night or by tornadoes not appearing as “classic funnels.”


Tornado Vehicle Fatality Death Motor Automobile 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyBowling Green State UniversityBowling GreenUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyKent State UniversityKentUSA

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