El Nino Fuels the Need to Prepare for a More Active Tornado Season, says IBHS


Tampa, FL – March 16, 2010 – (RealEstateRama) — With an El Nino winter almost behind us, it is time to start preparing for what forecasters predict will be an active spring for tornadoes, warns the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS).

Typically, the period between February and July is the most active time for tornadoes, and several states have designated today as Tornado Preparedness Day. The U.S. experienced 1,145 tornadoes in 2009, according to data from The Weather Channel. Although the 2010 tornado season has gotten off to a slower start, weather experts warn that winters comparable to 2009-2010 have typically produced an above average number of tornadoes the following spring.

“As the southern and plains states heat up this spring, so will the chances for severe thunderstorms, including tornadoes,” said Julie Rochman, IBHS President & CEO. “Even relatively isolated tornadoes can be an incredibly destructive force of nature. The time to prepare is now – before tornado season is in full swing.”

Tornadoes are rated according to the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale (an upgrade to the older Fujita Scale). An EF0 with winds ranging from 65 to 85 mph might damage trees and small outbuildings, it is not likely to cause substantial damage to structures. An EF5, on the other hand, with winds in excess of 200 mph can tear buildings off their foundations.

The good news is that only a small percentage of tornadoes have winds in the EF3 through EF5 categories. Consequently, about 85 percent of the land area in the U.S affected by tornadoes in a given year experience wind speeds that are similar to or lower than those that occur during a major hurricane, but still very powerful.

When a tornado warning has been sounded, or conditions appear threatening, it is important to move to a safe place quickly. “While actual warning times for weaker tornadoes can be quite short, the National Weather Service warning tools have advanced to the point where warning times are averaging well over five to 10 minutes for more intense tornadoes,” Rochman said. “Making sure you have a working weather radio and identifying in advance the safest place to go are two excellent ways to prepare.”

“Without a doubt, the safest places to wait out the storm would be an actual tornado shelter that has been built to meet either Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requirements or the International Code Council’s ICC 500 standard,” advised Tim Reinhold, Senior Vice President of Research and Chief Engineer at IBHS. “When that kind of shelter is not available, the next best option would be a small, windowless room located near the middle of the building.”

Strong winds from springtime storms across the south and Great Plains are common, whether or not they ultimately are classified as tornadoes, so improving the way homes and commercial buildings are held together (for example, between the roof and walls, as well as between the walls and foundation) are critical to reducing the chances of major structural damage.

To get a sense of how well your roof, walls and foundation are connected you can conduct a relatively quick inspection. Look at the connection points between the roof system (rafters or trusses) and exterior walls. Pay specific attention to whether there are any straps used to connect the two. Older homes and those located in inland areas are less likely to have straps.

If your garage has unfinished interior walls or your home has a crawl space, try to determine whether the walls and floor system are anchored to the foundation. Look for bolts with nuts and washers that attach the bottom of the wall to the floor slab or foundation. Also check for any additional strapping tying the walls or wood-frame floor to the foundation.

For a guide on steps to retrofit a building to better withstand the damaging effects of a severe windstorm please visit www.DisasterSafety.org.


IBHS is an independent, nonprofit, scientific and educational organization supported by the property insurance industry. The organization works to reduce the social and economic effects of natural disasters and other risks to residential and commercial property by conducting research and advocating improved construction, maintenance and preparation practices.

Joseph King (813) 675-1045
jking (at) ibhs (dot) org
Twitter: disastersafety


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