Just last month, hundreds of people died and thousands of properties across the south were destroyed by the ferocious tornados that wreaked havoc in the area.
Now, people are beginning to ask if it’s possible to build tornado-resistant homes.
According to Larry Tanner, who works as a structural engineer at the Wind Engineering Research Center in Texas Tech University, the average US home simply doesn’t stand a chance once it falls into the path of a tornado.
“The strongest winds that most homes can withstand are around 90 mph,” said Tanner. “After that, they all pretty much get blown to pieces.”
The average wind speed generated by a tornado whips up to between 130mph to 160mph say the National Weather Service.
Winds reaching 90mph are at the very low end of the scale when it comes to tornadoes, according to Tanner.
When compared to other atmospheric phenomena, tornadoes are incredibly destructive. A telling statistic comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which says that since 1953 57% of all catastrophic losses covered by insurance were due to tornadoes.
Current building standards in the US simply aren’t designed to withstand a tornado impact.
The average US home is reckoned to have a lifespan of around 50 years, and the chances of it being hit by a tornado in that time are incredibly small.
One place where building codes are more stringent is in Florida, due to the much bigger chance of them having to withstand a hurricane.
In order to make a home “tornado proof”, it would have to be made “missile resistant”, say the folks at the wind research lab. It would have to withstand “being penetrated by flying debris, and any connections between doors, windows, etc., would have to be able to stand up to 250mph of wind pressure.”
This means that homes would have to be made seven and a half times stronger than they are now. According to engineers, it simply isn’t practical to build a brick or wood home that can stand up to a tornado.
So what’s the alternative?
“An underground or in-house tornado shelter is the most practical option,” says Tanner. “That is practical, and it provides you with somewhere to go in case of an emergency.”
As well as a shelter, high-quality roofing shingles can be a real benefit, say experts. Poor quality roofing shingles are easily ripped off by strong winds, usually in a matter of seconds, and it is here where a home is weakest. Once the roof goes, the rest of the home is exposed, and it can easily be blown apart from the inside out.