On Saturday, April 29, a confirmed eight tornadoes impacted the south, including Missouri, Arkansas and eastern Texas. The death toll has reached double-digits and over 50 were injured because of the storms. Massive flooding also affected the aforementioned states. Some of the stronger tornadoes had wind speeds that could have reached as high as roughly 170 miles per hour, based on its rating on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale. Take a look at this video for an example of these tornadoes destructive power.
Dean Kyne and William Donner, assistant professor and associate professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, are co-editors-in-chief of IGI Global’s International Journal of Disaster Response and Emergency (IJDREM). The former teaches classes on sociology, natural disasters and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for disaster management, while the latter teaches coursework in emergency management and environmental sociology. Both experts presented at the American Geographers Annual Conference in Boston this past April.
They both recently took time out of their busy schedules to collaborate with IGI Global to talk about these tornadoes that affected Texas.
Aside from physical damage and injuries (at least 10 killed and 50 injured), in what other ways were the areas impacted?
KYNE: On April 29, 2017, there were confirmed eight tornadoes; the strongest one being a EF3 in eastern Canton near Dallas, Texas. On one hand, the event resulted in visible damages including properties, croplands and human injuries and deaths. On the other hand, the event left humans living in the impacted areas with invisible damages including psychological and emotional damages. When humans experienced threats to their safety and life, they were traumatized. The tornado event could have left the victims with psychological and emotional trauma. It will take weeks to months to recover from the traumatic symptoms.
Was there proper disaster preparedness? Were proper protocols in place?
DONNER: Communities in North Texas, as well as the National Weather Service (NWS), effectively followed standard protocols in place should the threat of severe weather present itself. The Red Cross as well as several religious charities have begun assisting victims who have lost homes due to the storms and now need assistance during the recovery process. The speed with which emergency organizations responded and their effectiveness in doing so attests to the high degree of preparedness of communities in the region.
Why is Texas so prone to tornadoes?
DONNER: Not only North Texas, but other areas of the Midwest, such as Oklahoma and Kansas, are also prone to tornadoes due to common climatological and meteorological features of the region. Such conditions are common when warm, moist air enters the region through the Gulf of Mexico and encounters dry air from elevated areas, creating the perfect conditions for extreme weather, of which tornadoes in this particular case are the most common. Other parts of the U.S., such as the Northeast and Pacific Northwest, lack a consistent source of warm, moist air and dry air necessary to produce tornadoes, which is why we tend to see fewer tornadoes outside of the Midwest region.
How effective was the disaster response by emergency crews?
DONNER: North Texas has an outstanding record of response and their reaction to these tornadoes is no exception. Two of the tornadoes that occurred were rated as EF 3s on the operational Enhanced Fujita scale, indicating that winds may have reached roughly 170 mph, thus reaching velocities capable of destroying otherwise resilient buildings and infrastructure. While five or six fatalities were reported, had the tornadoes of similar size, scope, and magnitude occurred elsewhere, it is not unlikely that fatalities and injuries would have been much higher by several orders of magnitude. From reports, warnings and watches were issued by the NWS, emergency crews responded immediately with search and rescue operations, and now recovery has begun in earnest.
With this said, and in spite of the effectiveness of response, there were over 50 injuries, a figure which may underrepresent the true number of injures as some who are injured may avoid hospital care because they view wounds as minor or lack insurance. Understanding why these injuries came about is critical to preventing deaths and injuries for future events. Was there simply not enough lead time? Did the respondents receive the warnings and understand them? If warnings were received and understood, were victims prevented in some way from seeking shelter or protecting themselves? In addition to effective preparedness, also necessary is a comprehensive understanding of the personal, psychological, and social dynamics at play during periods of severe weather and how these elements either hinder or facilitate preparedness in practice.
What are the likely recovery practices from tornadoes that caused so much destruction across a wide area?
KYNE: There are best practices in recovering from tornadoes. Some of the best practices are concerned with structural resiliency. To re-build damaged buildings from tornadoes, it is imperative to incorporate best practices into construction and building a safe room. International Code Council (ICC) 600 provides guidelines for building codes to build in regions prone to tornadoes with a wind speed of 90 mph (3-second gust) to 150 mph. In addition, FEMA P-499, Home Builder’s Guide to Coastal Construction lists series of best practices that could be incorporated into building houses in high-wind regions. Moreover, there are best practices such as FEMA P-804, Wind Retrofit Guide for Residential Buildings that could be used to improve the performance of existing houses.
Another best practice to recovery is to consider building a safe room where residents could evacuate themselves to protect against both wind forces and the wind-borne debris. Other best practices begin with planning for disaster resiliency. In the history, the Canton, Texas is a tornado-prone region with a record of more than 105 tornado events near Canton between 1950 and 2010. In such regions, planning for disaster resiliency is imperative for key stakeholders. The enforcement of the building codes and making sure that existing buildings are resilient to the high-speed wind are necessary actions for concerned authorities. In addition, the safe room should be included in the planning and issuing permission for new building. More importantly, emergency and evacuation plan must be placed in order and they must reflect reality in carrying out timely evacuation when there is a tornado. Risk communication is also important to keep residents informed about the any danger and allow them to evacuate.
How long can the recovery process take from a natural disaster like this?
KYNE: This is a good question. I would like to say that recovery varies spatially and temporally. In other words, the time to recover from a natural disaster varies from one region to another and from time to time depending on vulnerability and resiliency to disasters of a given region at a given time. To estimate a recovery from a natural disaster like this, first and foremost, we need a damage assessment. I believe that the damage assessment is in process and we anticipate hearing the estimate soon. In general, tornado rebuilding could take years in severely damaged regions. Our thoughts are with those affected by the devastating destruction, as well as the families and friends who lost a loved one. A sincere thanks to Dr. Dean Kyne and Dr. William Donner for taking time to speak with IGI Global and sharing their thoughts on not only the tornadoes, but the preparedness, recovery process and impact on the destructed areas. Please take a moment to follow the journal on Twitter and view the International Journal of Disaster Response and Emergency Management.