Blown away

A reader sends a question to Glenn Reynolds:

I just do not get it. For how long have Americans known about Tornado Alley? For how long have they known that a typical house would not withstand a once-in-20-years tornado, much less a worse one?

And yet houses are still built of clapboard and a couple of two-by-fours. Just like New Orleans is being rebuilt just where it used to be, because that worked out so well the first time around.

To which the Instant Man replied:

Even in Tornado Alley, the likelihood that any particular house will ever be hit by a tornado in its lifetime is pretty low. (Also, brick and stone construction, while good for tornadoes, is bad for earthquakes; wood-frame buildings actually do better there.) And basically nothing except quasi-fortified structures will withstand an EF4 or EF5 tornado.

The most significant storm of the 1999 Oklahoma outbreak, which sent funnels as far east as Tennessee, was a single F5 that started near Amber and didn’t lift until Midwest City, still packing F4 winds. (By the time it got to my neighborhood, I think it had just barely dropped into the F3 range.) The storm took out about 8,000 buildings, which sounds like a lot, but that’s over a sixty-mile stretch.

I am reasonably certain that another F5 would scrape my little frame house right off its slab. As it stands, though, the worst I’ve seen so far was from a hailstorm last year, which caused about $10,000 damage to the roof but left the house pretty much intact. Certainly nothing that happened then would have motivated me to move away.


  1. Andrea Harris »

    2 May 2011 · 10:25 pm

    Florida gets tons of tornadoes too. And there are the hurricanes. But there is the 99% (or whatever it is) of the time that these things aren’t happening. People can’t live in constant fear all the time.

  2. CGHill »

    3 May 2011 · 6:57 am

    On the other hand, it’s clearly in the best interests of the media and the politicians to keep us as much on edge as possible. Which is all the more reason to tell them to fart up a flagpole.

  3. fillyjonk »

    3 May 2011 · 8:19 am

    So what is that first person commenting over at Reynolds’ place proposing? Requiring everyone to move out of everywhere where a tornado MIGHT happen? Or requiring cave-like houses be built, so people will be “safe”? Or rounding everyone up and locking them in basements for all of March, April, and May?

    I get the sense that person is one of those “Bless their hearts, they don’t know better, so I’m going to force some legislation on them for their own good” types.

    (I wonder if the person in question lives in California. Personally, I’d rather deal with a risk of tornadoes than a risk of earthquakes…)

  4. CGHill »

    3 May 2011 · 8:22 am

    The person in question, beyond any other considerations, is persuaded that It Can’t Happen To Him, and therefore he can’t believe that people to whom it can happen aren’t taking the steps he would.

    Boy, is he in for a shock.

  5. Dan B »

    4 May 2011 · 12:23 am

    fillyjonk > “Requiring everyone to move out of everywhere where a tornado MIGHT happen?”

    That would pretty much require turning most of the US back over to the natives, if any with a legitimate claim can be found.

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