A famous movie character once said "I'm happier than a tornado in a trailer park!" That line got laughs because TV news reports seem to always have shocking video of flimsy mobile homes shredded by twisters. It turns out there may actually be a reason trailer parks are so often in harm's way.
Good scientists often have a child-like curiosity about what goes on in the world and Purdue University researchers Olivia Kellner and Dev Niyogi decided to find out if mobile home parks really do get hit more often or if that's just a myth perpetrated by media coverage.
Kellner and Niyogi's research into more than 60 years of data about tornadoes in Indiana uncovered interesting facts that suggest there may be a link between where tornadoes touch down and places where the landscape quickly changes from urban to rural or forest to farmland. According to a press release issued by Purdue University's Extension service "An analysis of locations where tornadoes touched down between 1950 and 2012 revealed that 61 percent of tornado touchdowns occurred within 1 kilometer (about 0.62 mile) of urban areas while 43 percent of touchdowns fell within 1 kilometer of forest. Some tornadoes touched down in close proximity to both cities and forests."
Kellner is not suggesting that the study is the last word on the matter, but she does say it could help with disaster planning. "Forecasters and city planners may need to pay closer attention to these 'transition zones' to better understand tornado risks."
Niyogi also notes that tornadoes tend to hit urban areas in rings 1 to 10 miles from the center of a city. ""As we continue to modify our landscapes, there will be many environmental and societal changes," he said. "But perhaps we have the potential to engineer cities to be more resilient to severe weather by thinking holistically about the way cities can be developed and how they affect local climate conditions."
Like so many other scientific studies Kellner and Niyogi's work raises at least as many questions as it answers, however by laying the foundation for future studies, their paper may make an important contribution to city and disaster planning that could ultimately save lives.