A New Study Explores The Complexities Of Tornadoes, Risk, Poverty, And Housing

Author: Marshall Shepherd / Source: Forbes A 2-Mile Crack Opens Up In Arizona A new study from researchers at Michigan State University ex

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A new study from researchers at Michigan State University examines the growing number of mobile homes in the United States and their inherent vulnerability to tornadic storms. There are roughly 9 million mobile homes in the United States according to a press release sent to me by Andy Henion, Senior Communications Manager at Michigan State University. The United States averages well over 1000 tornadoes per year. The risk of fatalities is greater in mobile homes, which may be the only viable housing option for some people. I wanted to further explore the complexities of risk, poverty, housing, and tornadoes.

SHAWNEE, OK – MAY 20: Volunteers help clean out Jean McAdams’ mobile home after it was overturned by a tornado May 20, 2013 near Shawnee, Oklahoma. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)

Michigan State researchers recently published, “Double Danger in the Double Wide: Dimensions of Poverty, Housing Quality and Tornado Impacts,” in the journal Regional Science and Urban Economics. They examined U.S. counties in tornado-prone regions from 1980 to 2014 and found that counties with large income disparities are more vulnerable to tornadoes. They particularly noted that the measure of housing quality (mobile homes as a proportion of housing units) is a strong indicator of tornado-related deaths. Economics professor Mark Skidmore, one of the authors of the study, said

The number of mobile homes increased from just 315,218 in 1950 to 8.7 million in 2010 – a trend that has been driven largely by persistent income inequality in the U.S.

Mobile home percentage by County. Source: NOAA SPC (Red indicates higher percentage)
Mobile home percentage by County. Source: NOAA SPC (Red indicates higher percentage)

The Michigan State University press release points out

The annual impact of tornadoes is expected to increase threefold over the next few decades due to the “twin forces of increased climate variability and growth in the human-built environment”

This was found by Stephen Strader and colleagues in recent paper in the journal Climate Change. Discussions about climate change and tornadoes can be messy, and I have seen very careless discussions on the topic by all sides of the discussion. Dr. Victor Gensini, at the College of Dupage, has lead studies on future climate change and severe weather links. He reminded me that his findings suggest an increase in the mean and variability of future severe weather in vulnerable regions like the Southeast. It is worth noting that a recent National Academies report on attribution of extreme weather and climate concluded that unlike some extreme events (heatwaves, some droughts, extreme precipitation events, etc.) there is lower confidence in attribution of tornadic…

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