Mobile homes are not tornado magnets, still pose dangers

Chris Smith looks over the debris from his mobile home in Eastbrook Mobile Home Park on Nov. 9, 2005, in Evansville, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Are tornadoes more likely to hit manufactured homes? It’s a question we hear often after a tornado tears through a mobile home park, leaving a mass of destruction, debris and more likely than not, a fatality if someone was in the home when a tornado hit.

So far in 2017, we’ve seen 34 tornado-related fatalities, and 19 of those, or nearly 56 percent, occurred in a mobile home. On average, 40 percent of total tornado fatalities are mobile home-related. While that is just less than half of all fatalities on average, it is extremely significant because only 6.4 percent of the entire U.S. population lives in manufactured homes.

Tornadoes aren’t attracted to mobile home parks, but they are likely to cause more damage to manufactured homes than a sturdy structure.

Winds from 90-120 mph — equivalent to an EF-0 to a weak EF-2 tornado — will destroy a mobile home. The same wind speeds might cause significant roof and siding damage to a well-built home, but it would take wind speeds from 136-165 mph or higher — equivalent to an EF-3 or larger tornado — to cause significant structural damage to those homes. The good news is those types of tornadoes are much rarer, making up less than a quarter of all tornadoes.

That’s why meteorologists and emergency managers urge those in mobile homes to abandon them for a storm shelter or sturdier structures when tornado warnings are issued, as most tornado damage is not survivable inside a mobile home.

Despite the grim statistics, laws requiring shelters within mobile home parks are rare and most park owners are unwilling to make the investment. Minnesota requires parks with spaces for 10 or more mobile homes to build shelters if they were built since 1988. Wichita, Kansas, has a similar ordinance for parks built since 1994.

While those laws and ordinances are a leap forward for mobile home park safety, Indiana, Kansas and Minnesota have some of the lowest percentages of mobile homes compared to all housing — all three have 6.6 percent or less apiece. Dixie Alley, an area vulnerable to strong or violent tornadoes that stretches from Louisiana to the Carolinas, has 15.7 percent of its housing as mobile homes on average, but has no shelter laws.

Those same states are all in the top half of tornado-related fatalities between 1950 and 1994. Mississippi and Alabama are in the top 5 with over 660 deaths. Those numbers increased drastically in the Deep South with the 2011 super outbreak, which had 324 fatalities.

With hard-to-find mandatory shelter laws and population densities increasing in tornado-prone areas each year, the best advice is to abandon manufactured housing on days when tornadoes are possible to go to a sturdier structure or shelter.

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