The good, the bad, and the ugly facts of tornado survival

Bobby G. McPeak, Atila Ertas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Anytime that tornadoes interface with people, the results are often grim. The varied characteristics of tornado windfields and the diverse techniques of home construction complicate the expected outcomes of such interactions. Since it is now known that tornadoes do not produce unfathomable winds, engineers have developed techniques for increasing a home's tornado resistance; thus, increasing the odds of survival of the inhabitants. Even considering these advances, tornadoes still wreak havoc and cause much causality every year. The story of tornado survival is partly chance, partly knowledge, and partly science. This essay utilizes analogies between a popular motion picture and the state of the art of tornado-resistant construction to illustrate the good, the bad, and the ugly facts of tornado survival. First examined are the positive aspects of tornado probability. The odds of experiencing a tornado are so low that massive expenditures are not necessarily cost effective. Next, various techniques of tornado-resistant construction practices are included for new and existing structures. Introduction of equations for predicting debris penetration are compared with various building techniques to describe the viability of tornado protection. The negative aspect of tornado/structure interfaces describes the fact that despite contemporary construction and prevention exercise, the unpredictability of the tornado windfield causes tremendous damage and loss of life. The final section examines the interface between tornadoes and mobile homes. This proves very ugly in every aspect of the word. Statistics and equations confirm the inherent dangers of such an interaction. Also, described is a novel approach to the design of a portable tornado shelter.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)915-935
Number of pages21
JournalNatural Hazards
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2012


  • Impact dynamics
  • Safe room
  • Shelter
  • Survival
  • Tornado


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