Tuscaloosa Tornado: Better Construction Needed

Areas on the edges of tornadoes could see reduced property damage and dramatic improvements in safety by using better design and construction methods, according to a new study on the April 27 Tuscaloosa  tornado  by engineers at the University of Alabama and academic researchers  at universities across the country.

Insurance Journal reports that based on the study findings, relatively minor changes in construction, such as better shingles, more anchors and thicker vinyl siding, could have prevented much of the damage to homes caused by the April 27 EF-4 Tuscaloosa tornado.

Insurers expect to pay out around $2 billion on claims from tornado damage in the Birmingham and Tuscaloosa areas alone, according to the I.I.I.

Researcher Andy Graettinger of the University of Alabama told Insurance Journal that homeowners on the fringes of the tornado would have been spared at least some damage with different construction methods or improvements to existing homes.

In some cases, homes could have been saved from catastrophic damage by metal clips or straps that cost about $1 each:

You’re looking at a few thousand dollars for these clips that hold everything together. It’s a very small amount compared to the cost of the house.†

Key takeaways from the study include:

  1. Light-frame wood buildings do not, and will not, have the ability to resist EF4 or EF5 tornadoes. The level of damage to light-frame buildings at lower wind speeds is not acceptable and can be reduced through new engineering design and construction practices.
  2. Virtually all buildings in the path of a strong tornado, even along the outer edges where wind speeds are lower, are irreparable based on current design and construction practices. This provides incentive and an opportunity for tornado-resistant design and construction practices which currently do not exist, according to the researchers.
  3. Interior closets and bathrooms provide shelter at lower wind speeds on the edges of the tornado, but they were no guarantee of survival. The concept of a “safe spot† should still be taught, but a safe spot is not a substitute for a safe room or tornado shelter.

Download a copy of the Tuscaloosa Tornado Report here.

Check out I.I.I. facts and stats on tornadoes.

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