The rare tornado that ripped through Gaylord killing two and injuring dozens, hit with little warning and – of all places – a trailer park, adding to the lore that such places attract these weather events.
But do they?
“We get that question quite a bit, actually,” Trent Frey, a National Weather Service meteorologist in White Lake Township said Monday morning. “Sometimes it certainly seems like it.”
However, the more direct answer is no.
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“There’s not any kind of development more prone to tornadoes,” Frey said. “A tornado develops based on what happens in the atmosphere, and that’s without regard to what’s beneath it.”
Friday’s tornado lasted about 20 minutes, striking at about 3:35 pm, Frey said.
And as with most tornadoes, residents had just a few minutes of warning.
Enhanced Fujita Scale
The tornado also was what meteorologist’s call an EF3.
That’s how it’s rated on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, named after Tetsuya (Ted) Fujita, a meteorologist at the University of Chicago, who first came up with the scale in the early 1970s.
The scale measures intensity, but that’s often connected to wind speeds.
An EF1 is the weakest and an EF5 is the most violent. An EF3 is in between. The one that touched down Friday, meteorologists said, had wind speeds of about 150 mph. That’s the same as a category 5 hurricane.
For context, a category 1 hurricane – the weakest hurricane – starts at 74 mph.
Here’s the Fujita Scale description of the destructive power of an EF3: Roofs and some walls torn from well-constructed houses; most trees in forested areas uprooted; heavy cars lifted and thrown; trains overturned.
The last time an EF3 hit Michigan was a decade ago. It touched down near Dexter.
‘Tornadoes simply destroy’
HowStuffWorks.com, a website founded by professor Marshall Brain, explained the connection between trailer parks and tornadoes this way:
“There is little truth to the myth that mobile homes ‘attract’ tornadoes,” adding “tornadoes don’t hit trailer parks more frequently than anything else. Tornadoes simply destroy.”
Mobile homes tend to be lighter – because they are intended to be mobile, after all – and less sturdy. They have thin walls, no basements and tend to lift off the ground. So even if you climb into a bathtub, it probably isn’t safe.
As a result, safety experts suggest that mobile home residents identify and seek shelter elsewhere – if they can.
And that destruction, shown in news accounts over and over, is what can make it appear that tornadoes are drawn to mobile home parks, even if in reality that is not the case.
Still, there may be one more reason why trailer parks seem to get hit more often – at least according to a Purdue University study in 2014.
That research looked at where tornadoes are more likely to touch down, analyzing about 60 years’ worth of climatological data. It found tornadoes tend to favor landscapes that it called “transitional zones,” between urban areas and farmland.
These places also tend to be where mobile homes end up.
Study co-author, Indiana state climatologist Dev Niyogi, told CBS in 2014 that the data might explain why mobile home parks are considered tornado magnets. Mobile homes, he said, tend to be outside city limits in open fields.
The study’s findings, he said, can potentially help make homes – and their placement of them – safer.
More: Here is the path of the tornado that left two dead in Gaylord
More: See photo gallery of cleanup in Gaylord after tornado
At the same time, Frey said, no matter how these data influences how we build homes, weather’s destructive power is something that people need to take seriously and seek safety where there are warnings.
“That’s why we do what we do,” he added. “Everything is for the protection of property and life.”
Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or email@example.com.