Is there a magnet buried under trailer parks to attract tornadoes?

Why are tornadoes attracted to trailer parks? Is it a myth? Well, sort of but not really… We can see why this idea comes about because of statistics and physics.

Study Might Explain Why Trailer Parks Seem To Be Tornado Magnets.

Researchers at Purdue University think they have pinpointed areas where tornadoes are more likely to hit.

WBBM Newsradio’s Veronica Carter reports researchers looked at 60 years worth of climatological data from the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center, and found tornadoes touch down most often in “transition zones” – areas where a dramatic change in landscape takes place. In other words, where tall buildings end and farmlands begin, or where a forest stops and the plains start.

Indiana state climatologist Dev Niyogi, who co-authored the study, said the data might explain why mobile home parks are often called tornado magnets, as they’re typically located just outside city limits in open fields.

The study found tornado touchdowns in urban areas occur approximately 1 to 10 miles from the city center.

Therefore, it appears that the location of trailer parks just outside the urban areas may play a role. They are typically flat areas to contain dozens of such homes. If the tornado just travels across farmlands, it’s less liklely to be newsworthy but, hit a residential area, and it will be. Also, because the structures are more vulnerable, not having a secure foundation, even small storms can cause considerable damage. According to the Tornado Project:

Lightweight mobile homes can be flipped by a 60 mile per hour wind. Heavier mobile homes may not go until 70 or 80 miles per hour. And a tied down trailer might stay put at 110 miles per hour.

In the fatality stats from 2000 to 2008, 539 people were killed by tornadoes in the US, with more than half (282) of those deaths in mobile homes. This is disproportional because only around 6.8% of homes in the US are “manufactured/mobile homes”. Obviously, this is because the structure is weaker and less safe, prone to greater damage. Finally, wikipedia reminds us that confirmation bias comes into play. We remember when something happens to reinforce a generally mistaken assumption and fail to recognize when it does not.

Notably, the movie Twister, about tornado hunters, never depicted a trailer park being whacked by a tornado.

The majority of the world’s tornadoes occur in the U.S. Even though we have a poorly defined “tornado alley in the central U.S. (central Texas to Colorado, North Dakota and Minnesota), Florida gets more small tornadoes per square mile than any other state.

More tornado myths here.

  14 comments for “Is there a magnet buried under trailer parks to attract tornadoes?

  1. Indrid Cole
    April 26, 2014 at 4:06 PM

    I thought it was because God hates meth labs.

  2. Paul Robinson
    April 26, 2014 at 5:57 PM

    Oh what utter bollocks – yes it’s simple to correlate the deaths in superficial structures in areas so prone to be hit by hurricanes, tornadoes & other devastating weather phenomenon. They’re on flat bare land, often in valleys & perfect target areas for these sort of natural disasters, built of flimsy products, (why in the name of the wee man in hurricane & tornado alleys do Americans continue to build in wood, without a storm cellar,if you look up a simple bit of geography, geology, & meterologie. I’m a thick Ulsterman & i can work out the correlation with minimal science qualifications. Bit like the surprise of coastal dwellers to catastrophic high tides & flooding during severe storms. What’s the surprise?

  3. One Eyed Jack
    April 26, 2014 at 8:58 PM

    And everyone of those tornadoes sounded just like a “freight train through my living room”.

  4. One Eyed Jack
    April 26, 2014 at 9:00 PM

    Because the cost of purchasing a mobile home can be a tenth the cost of a standard home and the chance of getting hit by a tornado is relatively small even in tornado alley.

  5. April 26, 2014 at 9:07 PM

    >The study found tornado touchdowns in urban areas occur approximately 1 to 10 miles from the city center.

    What kind of pointless stat is this? How many cities have a radius greater than 10 miles? I’m kind of underwhelmed by their “transition zone” notion, too.

  6. April 27, 2014 at 3:02 AM

    Unless you are in a concrete reinforced building during a tornado, your best best is probably a basement. Unfortunately, residents of trailer parks don’t generally have that option.

  7. Rich
    April 27, 2014 at 8:25 AM

    Yeah, I’m a bit underwhelmed by that ‘statistic’ too. I mean, how do they define ‘urban areas’ – any land within 10 miles of a city centre? Doesn’t it just say that tornadoes that touch down near a city touch down near a city?

  8. Chris Howard
    April 27, 2014 at 10:38 AM

    It’s Beelzebubba what does it! I know! I seen’tit with muh own two and a half eyes! *cue dueling banjos*

    But short answer, yes.

  9. Chris Howard
    April 27, 2014 at 10:40 AM

    Now, now. Love the lab, hate the head. 😉

  10. Lagaya1
    April 27, 2014 at 3:01 PM

    And the aftermath looked like a bomb went off.

  11. Paul Robinson
    April 27, 2014 at 3:15 PM

    I do have sympathy for the folks people call “trailer trash” as it’s a very nasty tag for people who try to live on a limited budget. Something Brits & Europeans in general have problem understanding – a cultural thing My revered agéd one (my dad) lived in a caravan retirement park for a few years – trailer park to one & all in ‘Merica, until the ridiculous management charges got as high as living in a bricks & mortar house. The tornado & hurricane touchdown thing (i’m no scientist or meterologist so please excuse crap laymans’ language) is related usually to temperature. Often trailer parks are in the middle of nowhere (townies don’t want them near of course) so a possible reason in the landscape it’s an attractant because of it’s thermal qualities, not a god’s vengance on the terrible so called trailer trash. Hate the term as through FB, before i started avoiding it like the plague i have made some good (admittedly virtual) friends who live in these places. Often not choice, but force of financial circumstances.

  12. April 27, 2014 at 7:48 PM

    There’s more about the study here:
    “An analysis of locations where tornadoes touched down between 1950 and 2012 revealed that 61 percent of tornado touchdowns occurred within 1 kilometer (about 0.62 mile) of urban areas while 43 percent of touchdowns fell within 1 kilometer of forest. Some tornadoes touched down in close proximity to both cities and forests.”

    “Although highly populated urban areas can increase the number of tornado reports, the analysis showed a large percentage of touchdowns also occurred in low-population regions with significant changes in surface features.”

    “Kellner said the percentages suggest that certain locations may enhance the likelihood of tornado touchdowns. Increased “surface roughness” – an abrupt change in the height of land surface features – can stretch or squash a column of air, increasing the air’s rate of spin, which could contribute to the formation of severe storms.”

  13. Cathy
    April 27, 2014 at 11:42 PM

    I imagine it’s quite hard to install a storm cellar in a mobile home! ;-0

  14. Lagaya1
    April 29, 2014 at 12:33 AM

    I agree with you, Paul, and thank you for the comment. Shameful how people are judging others for being poor. I expect better of people, maybe not elsewhere on the net, but certainly here.

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