Coronavirus has the nation (and the world) in a panic. However, such pandemonium can make it easy to lose sight of the other dangers in our midst. While COVID-19 is already responsible for 27 deaths in the 11 days since the first recorded fatality on February 29th, we are always at the mercy of natural disasters that can strike at any time.
Tragedy in Tennessee
And nowhere was this more pronounced than on the morning of March 3rd, 2020 in Middle Tennessee. Shortly after midnight, the first of seven confirmed tornadoes touched down west of Nashville. The path of destruction, which ran over 80 miles, resulted in the deaths of 24 people across Davidson (2), Wilson (3), Putnam (18) and Benton (1) counties, with as many as 21 still counted as missing.
This massive loss of life is further compounded by the rampant destruction that this tornado outbreak caused. Early estimates have confirmed that thousands of buildings have either been partially or completely destroyed, with the cost of the devastation likely to run into the billions of dollars.
Are Twisters Getting Less Dangerous?
However, despite such tragic loss of life, tornado deaths have been trending down over the last number of years. For example, the five years from 2015 to 2019 saw an average of 28 deaths recorded per year. This is down significantly from the 154 per year recorded during the previous five-year period. This figure is also markedly less than the historical yearly average of roughly 70 dating back over the last century.
And while there are many factors that contribute to this declining fatality rate, tornado frequency is not one of them. In fact, the number of tornadoes per year has remained remarkably steady over the last three decades. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded an average of 1,253 tornadoes per year between 1991 and 2010 with the decade since averaging just shy of 1,200 per year.
Dixie Alley is the New Tornado Hotspot
We’re all familiar with “Tornado Alley”. The term, popularized in the 1950s, is used to describe a vast swath of the southern plains of the United States, running from Texas in the south to South Dakota in the north. Tornado Alley can even be said to extend as far east as Ohio.
However, the deadliest tornadoes in recent years have tended to occur in “Dixie Alley”. This area, which encompasses all of the traditionally southern states from Texas in the west to the Carolinas in the east, has resulted in multiple tragic events over the last decade. In fact, the vast majority of recent tornado fatalities have occurred in Dixie Alley with infamous tragedies like the 2011 Super Outbreak, the 2008 Super Tuesday Outbreak and the Joplin, Missouri disaster in 2011 to name but a few.
Why Are Dixie Alley Tornadoes So Much Worse?
There are multiple contributory factors to the devastation wreaked by tornadoes in Dixie Alley. According to studies conducted by Northern Illinois University, Dixie Alley is so vulnerable to tornadoes for multiple reasons, including:
- Higher population density – With the exception of Texas, most of the traditional Tornado Alley states are quite sparsely populated. The same can’t be said of Dixie Alley with Tennessee, Georgia and Louisiana all featuring significantly higher population density.
- The amount of mobile and manufactured homes in Dixie Alley – Almost half of all tornado deaths happen in such structures. Such homes also lack basements, a key safe space for waiting out a major storm. In 2008, the US Census Bureau reported that only 10% of new homes in the Southeast included a basement whereas 75% of new homes in the Northeast and Midwest had one.
- Many Dixie Alley tornadoes pop up at night, when most people are in bed – Because most people are in bed and possibly asleep, they may miss sirens or text/email alerts about an approaching tornado.
- More varied terrain– Because Tornado Alley covers the mostly flat Plains states, tornadoes can be seen from miles away. In Dixie Alley, the undulating and more lush terrain make tornadoes harder to spot. Not only this but the abundance of trees also adds huge amounts of potentially deadly debris.
- Early season storms – This means that tornadoes in Dixie Alley can happen at any time of the year. In fact, some of the most severe storms occur during the winter months instead of the more traditional spring/summer months.
How Can Dixie Alley Communities Increase Tornado Safety?
While no emergency management system can completely eradicate the risks posed by tornadoes, there are steps that can be taken. These include the installation of warning sirens, rolling out emergency email, text and social media alerts and providing NOAA Weather Radios to public buildings and local businesses. However, there are a few determining factors when deciding what approach to take.
The first element to consider is the geographical layout of the community. Whether your community is rural or urban, hilly or flat or simply large or small can have a huge bearing on the most effective type of tornado warning. This is especially pertinent to mountainous areas where cell phone or internet coverage may be inconsistent.
The relative population density is also a major consideration. Consider the differences between a warning siren activating in a suburban area versus a rural area. In the suburbs you have large populations clustered into small areas, thereby making sirens ideal for communicating an emergency. In a rural community, residents are spread over larger areas and the same number of sirens won’t be as effective.
Finally, and this is usually the ultimate deciding factor, the cost of the emergency solution has to make sense. Many municipalities in Dixie Alley simply don’t have the funding to install warning sirens, thus ruling out this option.
Whether through the use of sirens, email or text alerts, NOAA Weather Radios or some combination of all three, a coherent emergency management strategy can provide residents of any community crucial minutes to get to safety. And while the effects can be hard to quantify, the more quickly you can provide accurate information to the public, the safer everyone will be.
How CentrAlert’s Advisor Alert Radio Offers Unparalleled Emergency Communication Capability
CentrAlert’s patented, multi-mode Advisor Alert Radio™ (AAR) is the perfect solution for emergency communication in an extreme weather scenario. Compatible with numerous communication methods and protocols, the AAR provides unsurpassed flexibility and reliability with multiple input channels (VHF, UHF and Ethernet) and various output types (tone, voice, text, strobe and pillow shakers).
The AAR is also the only alert radio capable of providing an NOAA receiver coupled with a local receiver. This allows localized control of escalating events and gives the user optimal access to crucial emergency information.
All of these solutions can be adapted to fit any tornado preparedness plan and if you want more information on how CentrAlert can help protect your municipality or organization from severe weather events, please click here.