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.
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.