Tornadoes killed 550 Americans last yearThe number of lives taken by tornadoes last year nearly made 2011 the second deadliest tornado year to date in the United States.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
The number of lives taken by tornadoes last year nearly made 2011 the second deadliest tornado year to date in the United States.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than 1,700 separate tornadoes killed 550 people throughout the country. That number puts 2011 fourth on the list of deadliest years for tornadoes, although it was remarkably close to holding a higher spot. The fatality count is just three short of passing the second and third deadliest years of 1936 and 1917, respectively.
“Last year was an exceptionally deadly year because city after city got hit. Some of them were far outside of ‘Tornado Alley,’” explained Mike Smith, senior vice president of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions.
Five-hundred fifty far exceeds the average number of 60 people killed per year from tornadoes. The NOAA said a majority of those deaths occur as a result of flying or falling debris.
The single deadliest tornado of last year also ranks in the top 10 for deadliest of all time. On May 22, an EF-5 twister struck Joplin, Mo., resulting in 158 fatalities or nearly 30 percent of tornado deaths recorded for the entire year.
Tornado severity is ranked based on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which categorizes them from 0 to 5. EF-5 is considered to cause “incredible damage” with wind speeds reaching more than 200 mph.
The Joplin tornado caused incredible damage as it racked up $2.8 billion worth of destruction — the costliest on record. Within a week of the incident, numerous twisters were touching down in 14 other states spanning from Georgia to Pennsylvania and Texas to Minnesota. An additional 19 fatalities were reported by May 27.
“No matter how good the warnings are, if you take a densely populated area and put a F-4 or F-5 tornado in there, tragically, people are going to lose their lives,” Smith said.
April saw more outbreaks of tornadoes than any other month of the year when an estimated 875 tornadoes caused 364 deaths. Of those, more than 240 fatalities occurred in Alabama alone, 78 of which were from a single EF-5 that struck the northern part of the state.
Such high numbers labeled April 2011 the most extreme tornado month in U.S. history.
No tornadoes here
Goodhue County saw no deaths from tornadoes in 2011, but a life was taken nearby when a natural disaster struck Hennepin County. One man died after a tree fell on his vehicle in Minneapolis, the Minnesota Climatology Working Group at the University of Minnesota reported.
Goodhue County residents were fortunate enough to see no twisters last year, and only be a part of two tornado warnings.
“It was a pretty mild year for us,” Goodhue County Emergency Management Director Diane Richter-Biwer said.
The county has an extensive system of warning sirens in the event of a weather emergency. About 64 sirens are located throughout the Red Wing area alone and get activated each time a tornado warning is issued by the National Weather Service. Each can be heard up to about a half mile away, Richter-Biwer said.
“We do recommend if people live out of the range of hearing sirens that they get a weather radio for their homes,” she added.
Sirens in Goodhue County are tested every first Wednesday of the month at 1 p.m., but if they go off at other times, residents are advised to seek shelter. Richter-Biwer said the sirens really do play a part in preventing fatalities from tornadoes.
“As long as people listen to them, follow their directions and go inside.”
Taking a closer look at tornadoes
The American Association of University Women is sponsoring the ninth annual Brave New Girls event in March. This year’s theme is “Storm Chasers,” giving fifth- through seventh-grade girls the chance to study the science of weather, learn about careers in meteorology and understand the proper safety precautions to take when severe conditions arise.
What: Brave New Girls: Storm Chasers
When: 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday March 27
Where: Twin Bluff Middle School
More info: Registration is already open and can be done through Community Education, 651-385-4565