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Lessons We’ve Learned from the 2011 Super Outbreak

The Deep South is known for many great things including its beautiful nature, hunting, fishing, food, and Southern Hospitality. Unfortunately it’s also known for known for one its most lethal events: tornadoes. There are even a nickname for this occurrence: Dixie Alley. Alabama in particular is prone to receive a high number of tornadoes. Though they’re a normal occurrence, certain weather patterns can create worse problems in some years than others.

The 2011 Super Outbreak was the largest outbreak of tornadoes in the country’s history. To top of it off, it spawned the 2011 Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado, which left an 80 mile trail of destruction, left 1500 injuries, took 64 lives, and damaged $15.1 billion in insured property alone. Here are a few things we learned in the aftermath of these events.

  1. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) created a disaster mitigation fund that applied to all 67 counties in Alabama. Even though the Tuscaloosa area was harmed the most, all counties can take advantage of these federal programs that cover up to 75% of shelter costs using federal funding.
  2. The Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado was the third tornado to affect the city in a decade. However, it was the second tornado to hit the city in two weeks. The tornado was an EF4 category and also hit left a high degree of destruction in the Pratt City area of Birmingham, as well as Fultondale.
  3. As for 2014 there were still no FEMA-approved storm shelters in Tuscaloosa. The city resorted to opening two public schools to serve as safe rooms for people who did not have a safe place to stay during the tornadoes of 2014. Although plans had been made to build more safe rooms throughout the city, construction still hadn’t begun.
  4. Although Tornado Alley in the midwest also has strong tornadoes, those that hit the Deep South are more dangerous. This is because they usually hit during the winter season and there is less visibility. Days are shorter and the darkness that accompanies the winter means people are less likely to see a tornado that could be near them. The South also has more trees, which also contributes to reduced visibility of tornadoes. To top it off, tornados tend to actually hit at night, when people are less likely to know about warnings because they’re asleep.
  5. Housing in the Deep South puts its residents in danger. Many who live in the South own or rent homes that don’t have basements. The region also has a lot more trailer parks than other parts of the country. It doesn’t take a strong tornado to reduce a trailer park to scraps. Although mobile homes are 7% of the housing market, they accounted for 20% of the fatalities during the 2011 tornado season.

There have been a lot of technological advances that help scientists and meteorologists warn people about tornados. For one, more scientific data has allowed for a 15 minute lead time, which is three times the lead time available in the 1990s. Innovations in the construction industry also allow for homes to built to withstand more weight, which can be helpful in permanent homes.

The best plan for now is to prevent lives from being lost due to earthquakes. Scientists at Texas Tech University have built tornado shelters and safe rooms that can survive an EF 5 tornado—the highest rating a tornado can get. Several states, such as Oklahoma, have begun programs that include public subsidies for shelters and safe-rooms. This is a model that other states vulnerable to tornados can follow.

For many years there was also a lack of affordable tornado shelters in the region—particularly the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee. This is one way in which Torshel is attempting to invigorate local business projects that could save lives. From the beginning Torshel has been committed to helping Southerners feel safe in comfortable in their homes, schools, and other places that could use extra peace of mind whenever tornado season hits. Nature can be tough, unpredictable and unforgiving, but having a solid plan in place never hurt

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