Spatial and Temporal Analysis of Tornado Fatalities in the United States: 1880–2005

…from Weather and Forecasting, Volume 22…

Walker S. Ashley

“A dataset of killer tornadoes is compiled and analyzed spatially in order to assess region-specific vulnerabilities in the United States from 1880 to 2005. Results reveal that most tornado fatalities occur in the lower–Arkansas, Tennessee, and lower–Mississippi River valleys of the southeastern United States—a region outside of traditional “tornado alley.” Analysis of variables including tornado frequency, land cover, mobile home density, population density, and nocturnal tornado probabilities demonstrates that the relative maximum of fatalities in the Deep South and minimum in the Great Plains may be due to the unique juxtaposition of both physical and social vulnerabilities. The spatial distribution of these killer tornadoes suggests that the above the national average mobile home density in the Southeast may be a key reason for the fatality maximum found in this area. A demographic analysis of fatalities during the latter part of the database record illustrates that the middle aged and elderly are at a much greater risk than are younger people during these events. Data issues discovered during this investigation reveal the need for a concerted effort to obtain critical information about how and where all casualties occur during future tornado and hazardous weather events. These new, enhanced data, combined with results of spatially explicit studies exploring the human sociology and psychology of these hazardous events, could be utilized to improve future warning dissemination and mitigation techniques.”

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