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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Why Tornados Demolish Trailer Parks

Trailer parks are not “tornado magnets.” Let’s kill a myth right here:

Place a full roll of aluminum foil 2” perpendicular to the vapor stream that is being blown out of a tea kettle, and see how much the steam bends toward it. The steam did not bend toward the foil roll, did it? Well I guess high-speed air and water vapor are not magnetically attracted to aluminum and cellulose. Likewise, trailer homes made out of aluminum and wood do not “attract” air and water vapor tornados.

Below are the real reasons why trailer homes always seem to be destroyed every year by tornados:

1: Trailer Homes are Flimsy

Air weighs a lot, more then you may think. A cubic yard of air weighs about 2.5 pounds. Imagine you have a full 40oz of Colt .45, and you hurl the bottle at a mobile home at full strength. You would expect to leave a dent in the thing, right? Well even the weakest tornados throw 1000’s of cubic yards of compressed air at a trailer in a few seconds. The trailer home only weighs about as much as two large pick-up trucks, and has a much larger surface area for the wind and debris to act on. At best, the trailer can be expected to be tipped over; at worst it will be demolished, even in an weak F-1 tornado.

Hurl the same bottle at a well built house, you may chip some paint, and if you’re lucky, knock a board off.

2: It is a Cliché

Many people think that tornados commonly destroy mobile homes, because that is what is usually presented in the media. A weak tornado can demolish a mobile home, and a strong tornado can rip it to pieces and then some. The media likes nothing better then to show a mullet clad, yellow toothed, trucker cap wearing yokel, pointing to an empty lot strewn with debris, explaining in redneck English how he lost every thing, but his family is safe and that’s what matters. The media wants “human interest” stories. Interviewing a person that earns $150,000 a year, talking about how he/she lost two windows, some shingles, and his bushes, just isn’t news worthy.

Trailer parks almost act as “tornado detectors;” a weak tornado that destroys a mobile home park would be virtually undetectable in a neighborhood of well built dwellings. It is likely that many tornados churn through the suburbs of the Midwest and East Coast every year, but are undetected because they do not do enough damage to be identified as tornados. In fact, I know I hit by a tornado this year:

During the late spring, a cyclic supercell thunderstorm was rolling through the area, after already producing many funnel clouds and one confirmed touchdown. It had weakened some, but according to the Doppler radar, it still showed moderate mid-level rotation, and this seemed to be intensifying somewhat as it neared my home at 40mph. I went outside under my overhang to watch, and was amazed at what I saw:

The wind was blowing rain and some pea to dime sized hail at about 35-40mph out of the South-Southwest. After a few minutes, the wind picked up a great deal and started blowing out of the South at about 65-70mph. I saw shingles fly off a few roofs, and a few gutters get ripped off the eaves. This lasted about 10 seconds. There was a brief “calm” where the wind was very erratic, but still strong for about 5 seconds, than the wind came very strongly out of the North then Northwest at about 50-60mph. Given the radar images I saw just before this happened, I have no doubt that an “undetected” F-0 tornado passed right over me. These sort of winds, while doing little damage to my community, could well have done a good deal of damage to a trailer park, and enough debris may have been thrown about for the NWS damage surveyors to classify it as “tornado damage.”

3: The Media (Again!)

I hate to repeat myself, but when is the last time you saw a successful business man (or woman) on camera describing the damage to his/her home? It doesn’t happen that often, I assure you. Here is a recent example… Hurricane Katrina. If you were a reporter, what would make a better story: The Ninth Ward and the Superdome, or rich people that lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast? This works the same way with every natural disaster, including tornados.

Hapless, indigent wretches, staring blankly at their destroyed lives, while describing in a redneck accent how they feel and what they saw to an attractive, well spoken reporter, is ratings gold.

This is why tornados always seem to destroy trailer parks.



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