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Do tornadoes really target trailer parks?

On Wednesday, March 25th, the United States had its first real tornado outbreak for the month and the first deadly tornado of this year. One person died in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when a tornado ripped through a mobile home park. The National Weather Service ranked the twister as an EF 2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale with estimated winds between 125 and 135 miles per hour and a maximum width of 800 yards - almost three football fields wide.

The report of the fatality prompted questions from people around me who wondered why "tornadoes always hit trailer parks?" Since today is April 1st, I could pretend that there is some magnetic attraction between twisters and mobile home parks, but fatalities are no joke, and neither is tornado safety. Sorry to be a killjoy.

While the perception might be that tornadoes target trailers, the reality is that manufactured housing is the least safe place to be in severe weather, second only to an automobile. It's just that simple. So when we hear or read that so many people died when a tornado hit a mobile home neighborhood, we remember it. The news makes more of an impact than saying a twister briefly touched down in a farmer's field in western Nebraska. We tend to recall tragic news easier.

The questions prompted me to research a few facts about killer tornadoes so far this century. Since 2000, the earliest deadly tornado occurred on January 4, 2007, and the latest happened on April 25th of last year. When plotted on a graph, most first deadly tornadoes of the year across the country cluster around late February and early March.

North Carolina has seen our share of tornado fatalities since the year 2000, and luckily it's a relatively small share - just 3.16% of the national number. Our deadliest year was in 2011 with a total of 26. I think everyone who lived in central and eastern North Carolina remembers that year. Other bad years included 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2009.

Of the 42 total deaths in our state, 27 have been in mobile homes, 13 were in houses and 2 were in vehicles. One of those mobile home fatalities occurred in an EF 1 rated tornado with winds of 86 to 110 miles per hour. It was the only fatality caused by an EF 1 storm.

So, why are mobile homes so unsafe? They are not considered sturdy shelters because of the materials used in their manufacture and the fact that they roll easily. Straight line winds of around 75-80 miles per hour can roll a trailer just as easily as rotating winds in a tornado.

The point here is not to pick on anyone who lives in a mobile home, but to remind everyone that they are not safe in severe weather. Have a sturdy shelter. Have a backup plan. Be prepared. Survive.

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