The U.S. gets hit by approximately 1,200 tornadoes on average each year, according to the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL). The country has the most prevalent tornadoes in the world, thanks to its geography. High and cool air from the Pacific Ocean converges with the low, warm air from the Gulf of Mexico at the flat terrains of south central North America. Known as the Great Plains, this part of the country features no obstacles that might prevent the meeting of these westerly and easterly winds and thus mitigate the formation of tornadoes.
This area has been nicknamed Tornado Alley due to the frequent tornadoes that appear in the region. “Tornado Alley is an area of the U.S. where there is a high potential for tornado development,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said. “This area encompasses much of northern Texas northward through Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and parts of Louisiana, Iowa, Nebraska and eastern Colorado.”
According to the NSSL, the potential for tornadoes are more typical in the southern and central Plains in May and June, while the natural phenomenon is more usual in the northern Plains and in the upper Midwest in the early summer months of June or July. Tornadoes also occur in the Gulf coast earlier in the spring.
However, if you’re not living in or near Tornado Alley, don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet because tornadoes have been reported in all states. Furthermore, the Scientific American has reported that Tornado Alley has shifted eastward. Tornado outbreaks are now being reported about 400 to 500 miles in Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas, northern Mississippi, and western Tennessee.
So, it doesn’t matter where you are in the country, you should still be prepared for a possible tornado and what to do afterward, including how to assess the damage of the storm’s aftermath.
First and foremost, always consult with a professional contractor or a disaster recovery specialist before assuming there are for certain serious damages or seeking solutions to implement.
Why it’s important to make a correct assessment of damages after a tornado
Tornadoes come with strong winds that can cause injuries and even death as well as damages to homes, buildings, and other structures. In addition to property damage, tornadoes can also wreak havoc on crops. How much damage a tornado leaves behind depends upon its wind speed and intensity.
The Fujita Scale, which estimates wind speeds, is a tool used to assess damage caused by a tornado. The scale assigns an “F” rating, and a tornado with the F0 rating features wind speeds of up to 72 mph, while F5 is assigned to a violent tornado with winds of about 300 mph. With an F0 rating, you may see tree branches broken off and other limited damages on houses and buildings. F1 may overturn mobile homes and cars, F2 may detach roofs from houses and uproot large trees, and F5 may make cars fly or lift homes.
Making the proper assessment of damages to persons and properties after a tornado is important for treatment of injuries, repair of damaged structures, and quick recovery for everyone involved. Basically, tornado damages – whether in human life, crops, or structures – cost money to deal with. So, making the correct assessment of the damages can help you, the government, non-profits, and others allocate resources for the fast rehabilitation of a tornado-torn area.
According to a ValuePenguin study, taking data from the National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), reveals that 5,710 tornadoes formed in all states, except Alaska, from 2010 to 2020. These tornadoes resulted in the death of almost 1,000 people and a total of over $14.1 billion in property and crop damages. Each storm caused $2.5 million worth in damages to properties, while for the affected states – excluding the District of Columbia and two other states – property damage came in at least thousands of dollars. More than 50% of the tornado damage concentrated in five states, namely, Alabama, Mississippi, Illinois, Texas, and Arkansas.
How to assess tornado damage
First of all, check if you have any injuries. After that, check your surroundings. If you’re inside your house or a building, check the walls and floors as well as the doors, windows, and staircases for possible damages. Especially be on the lookout for any structural damage to your home, such as cracked foundation or support beams.
If you’re outside, be on the lookout for any damaged structures, safety hazards such as broken glass or splintered wood, or strange noises. Damaged homes and buildings are unsafe to enter and may hold a serious problem inside, while strange noises emanating from within a building or other structure could mean it may fall any second, so stay away from them. If those signs are absent but you find the door jammed, don’t force it open. Look for an alternative entry into the house or building.
Once inside, check if there are any parts of the floor or ceiling that are sagging. A sagging ceiling means it got wet during the storm, is now heavy with water, and might collapse. Avoid stepping on sagging floors, but if you need to, then use thick and strong plywood, panels, or boards to keep the area from collapsing under you.
After checking for structural damage, it’s time to check your house’s electrical, plumbing and heating systems. Sniff for gas and listen for a hissing noise. Both indicate a potential gas leak, so get out and stay away from your house and immediately call the fire department to deal with the issue. Also look for any broken water lines and turn off the valves from the outside. Turn off the main circuit breaker as well if there is a burning odor or if you see wires with frays or sparks. If the power is out, use a flashlight, not a candle or other open flame.
Furthermore, check for any damaged furniture, and if there are any, avoid leaning on them or using them as support as they are most probably unstable. Aside from damages, a twister might also bring some animals inside your house. So, try tapping the floor loudly and often to let any animals know you’re there. Take photos of the damage to make insurance claims easier, and if you make any temporary repairs, save all your receipts.
Assess damages after a tornado
In conclusion, it doesn’t matter where you are in the country, you should still be prepared for a possible tornado and what to do afterward, including how to assess the damage of the storm’s aftermath.