Hospitals & Asylums 








Tornado Relief HA-5-5-11


By Anthony J. Sanders


The United States encountered an estimated 875 tornadoes in April 2011, the most in any month in history. Normally, the average number of tornadoes in April is 161.  May is usually the most active month.  The average annual number of tornadoes is 1,274.  Most of this increase is due to two unusually large outbreaks.  The first tornado storm was from April 14-16 when 320 tornadoes swept across Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and North Carolina claiming an estimated 45 lives.  In the second storm from April 25-28 another 305 tornadoes swept through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia claiming 318 lives, mostly in Alabama, 309 April 27-28, the fifth deadliest day of tornadoes since records began being compiled in 1680.  Normally tornadoes cause an average of 70 fatalities and 1,500 injuries in the U.S. each year.  The Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado during the April 2011 event caused at least 65 fatalities. This tornado had a maximum width of 1.5 miles and a track 80 miles long.  These are the most fatalities from a single tornado in the United States since May 25, 1955, when 80 people were killed in a tornado in southern Kansas (NOAA ’11).  The deadliest single tornado on record in the United States was the Tri-State tornado (Mo., Ill., Ind.) on March 18, 1925, when 695 died (Battan ’61).


Number of Tornadoes/ Tornado Deaths / Killer Tornadoes by Month 2008-2011







3yr avg.















































































Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Storm Prediction Center. Monthly and Annual U.S. Tornado Summaries. 2000-2011


Tornadoes have been observed in all parts of the world and every one of the continental states, but are largely concentrated over the Great Plains and Middle West (Battan ’61: 76-77).  Records indicate tornadoes are more numerous and destructive between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains than in any other part of the world (Flora ‘53).  Tornadoes in the United States are most common in the spring and early summer, but they may occur at any time.  March and April, are more common near the Gulf coast.  As the year progresses the center of the region of maximum tornado likelihood moves northward.  By June the greatest tornado risks are in Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa (Battan ’61: 88). Tornadoes may form at any time, day or night, but are most frequent in the afternoon.  More than half (58 per cent) of the storms have been reported between the hours of 2:00 and 8:00 pm with 23 percent between 4:00 and 6:00 pm.  Several hours of abnormally warm, humid and oppressive weather usually precede the formation of a tornado (Flora ’53: 4).  High ground temperatures contribute to instability and the formation of thunderstorms, which in turn can lead to the creation of tornadoes (Battan ’61: 94-94).



The devastation wreaked by the April 2011 tornadoes compels NOAA National Weather Service Prediction Monthly and Annual U.S. Tornado Summaries to begin to account for the injuries and property damage, as well as death, caused by more tornadoes than anywhere else in the world.  The April 2011 page does not even account for the damage caused by the April 14-16 storms.  In the period from 1916 to 1953 an average of 230 people a year were killed by tornadoes, ranging as low as 36 in 1931 to as high as 842 in 1925.  Property damage averaged almost $14 million per year but in 1927 was as high as $25 million in the state of Missouri alone.  On the average, from 1916 to 1950, about 150 tornadoes have been reported each year with the numbers ranging from 65 to 220.  The largest previous number of tornadoes on record in one event occurred from April 3-4, 1974, with 148 tornadoes (Battan ’61).  In the future it is hoped that NOAA will be of more assistance declaring a permanent state of civilian emergency regarding tornadoes in the United States, to the Governor of every state who shall estimate needs that the United States will cover no less than 75% of under 42USC(68)IV-A§5191.   


Surveying the Damage


Credit: NOAA Birmingham Weather Forecast Office


Reconstruction estimates of individual counties range from $3.5 million to $57 million and there may be a hundred counties affected.  It would be safe to estimate a one billion dollar private insurance settlement and another one billion dollar public settlement.  This of course includes survivor, disability and Medicare benefits, as well as FEMA assistance.  Social Security survivor benefits ensure dependents no less than 75% of whatever benefits the deceased wage earner would be due.  Disability insurance is a satisfactory compensation for those injured and not likely to be able to work for six months.  Medicare should begin by paying for every uninsured injury associated with the tornado disaster.  FEMA may provide to any individual unemployed as a result of a major disaster benefit assistance for the weeks of such unemployment 42USC(68)IV§5177.  For the purpose gainful employment essential assistance programs are categorized under 42USC(68)IV§5170B-3 as follows (A) debris removal; (B) search and rescue, emergency medical care, emergency mass care, emergency shelter, and provision of food, water, medicine, and other essential needs, including movement of supplies or persons; (C) clearance of roads and construction of temporary bridges necessary to the performance of emergency tasks and essential community services; (D) provision of temporary facilities for schools and other essential community services; (E) demolition of unsafe structures which endanger the public; (F) warning of further risks and hazards; (G) dissemination of public information and assistance regarding health and safety measures; (H) provision of technical advice to State and local governments on disaster management and control; and (I) reduction of immediate threats to life, property, and public health and safety.


The view from Lori Mehmen’s front door one Tuesday evening


Source: Lyons, Patrick J. A Remarkable Photo from Tornado County. Associated Press.  June 13, 2008


Tornadoes are quite small; the vast majority is less than a mile in diameter and many are less than 100 yards.  They appear as pendent funnels which dip downward from the base of existing clouds and approach the ground in an irregular fashion.  Many times funnels never reach the ground.  Instead, they oscillate downward and upward several times and finally disappear in the clouds.  The appearance of a fully developed tornado, or twister, can have a variety of shapes.  Sometimes they look like an ordinary funnel, others it is a large circular cylinder whose diameter changes little between the cloud base and the ground, sometimes the funnel has the appearance of a long narrow rope twisted into peculiar shapes, even having horizontal sections (Battan ’61: 78)  The outer boundaries of many tornado funnels are very distinct.  Other times the tornado is a fuzzy mass of clouds and dust.  One common feature of all tornadoes is the low pressure at the center of the storm.  The rotation of the winds in tornadoes is almost always counterclockwise, but there are some clockwise reports.  Speeds as high as 120 miles per hour have been measured, but to cause the damage witnessed many authorities have suggested that the winds could exceed 300 miles per hour.  A loud noise, likened to a thousand railway trains, or the buzzing of a million bees, is associated with tornadoes.  A large fraction of the fatalities associated with tornadoes are caused by debris, huge timbers, pieces of metal, glass etc. (Battan ’61: 80-81)(Verkaik ’98)( Bluestein ’99).



Prior to the occurrence of tornadoes the atmosphere consists of a deep dry layer of air on top of a moist layer.  The humid air originates over the tropical oceans.  In the United States the inflow of moist air below 10,000 feet is seen on the weather maps as a fairly strong stream coming out of the Gulf of Mexico.  The upper dry layer is composed of air that has passed over the Rocky Mountains and been subjected to some sinking motion.  At the boundary between dry and moist regions the temperature increases with height.  Until the dry-over-moist air mass is lifted en masse, thunderstorms and tornadoes are not likely.  Once the strong upward motion has been initiated and the tornado spin begins, it can be maintained by the addition of energy.  The major source of energy is the heat released during condensation of cloud droplets.  As air in the low levels rises, it is replaced by rapidly converging air.  As the converging air gets closer to the center of rotation it must rotate faster and faster.  In this way strong wind velocities are generated.  Some tornado systems involve a single funnel, others involve many of them.  Some tornadoes last only seconds; others may go on for tens of minutes.  There have been reports that some tornadoes have traveled as far as several hundred miles and lasted for many hours (Battan ’61: 92).  The primary human suspect for causing tornadoes is the heating up of waters with rail cars filled with the petroleum processing chemical styrene and a remote ignition, as may have been done to intensify Hurricane Katrina (Sanders ’05).  Humans can strive to limit their contribution to the heating of valleys by not driving and limiting their industrial capacity when confronted with violent storms that are likely to spawn tornadoes. 


Fujita scale

Wind Speed














Fujita Scale

40-72 mph

73-112 mph

113-157 mph

158-206 mph

207-260 mph

261-318 mph

Enhanced Fujita Scale

65-85 mph

86-110 mph

111-135 mph

136-165 mph

166-200 mph

Greater than

200 mph

Source: The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Columbia University Press. Infoplease. 2007


Fujita scale or F-Scale, devised in 1951 by the Japanese-American meteorologist Tetsuya (Ted) Fujita (1920–98) classifies tornadoes on a hierarchy beginning with category F0, or “light” (winds of 40–72 mph; some damage to chimneys, TV antennas, roof shingles, trees, signs, and windows), which accounts for about 28% of all tornadoes. Category F1, or “moderate” (winds of 73–112 mph; automobiles overturned, carports destroyed, and trees uprooted), accounts for about 39% of all tornadoes. Category F2, or “significant” (winds of 113-157 mph; roofs blown off homes, sheds and outbuildings demolished, and mobile homes overturned), accounts for about 24% of all tornadoes. Category F3, or “severe” (winds of 158–206 mph; exterior walls and roofs blown off homes, metal buildings collapsed or severely damaged, and forests and farmland flattened), accounts for about 6% of all tornadoes. Category F4, or “devastating” (winds of 207–260 mph; few walls, if any, left standing in well-built homes and large steel and concrete missiles thrown great distances) accounts for about 2% of all tornadoes. Category F5, or “incredible” (winds of 261–318 mph; homes leveled or carried great distances and schools, motels, power plants and other larger structures have considerable damage with exterior walls and roofs gone), accounts for less than 1% of all tornadoes. In 2007 the National Weather Service adopted the Enhanced Fujita scale. or EF-Scale, revising the associated wind speeds so Category EF0 has estimated winds of 65–85 mph; EF1, 86–110 mph; EF2, 111–135 mph; EF3, 136–165 mph; EF4, 166–200 mph; and EF5, over 200 mph (Columbia ’07).


Before and After 15th St. E. and McFarland Blvd. E. in southeast Tuscaloosa, AL


Credit: Google, NOAA King Air 350CER April 29, 2011.


When the weather bureau issues an alert people in the area should get set.  They should keep the radio on, tuned to the local station or one of the civil defense stations.  If a tornado is sighted and reported, its location will be broadcast.  When thunderstorms are observed, look for sing of a tornado funnel.  Open windows on the leeward side of the house and run for cover.  Report the tornado sighting if possible.  At night the funnel may not be seen, but the loud roar may be heard.  When this occurs, there is no time, the funnel is about to strike.  The safest place when a tornado is approaching is a storm cells.  The next best place is the southwest corner of the basement.  Open windows and doors to allow rapid pressure accommodation.  Tornadoes usually move from the southwest and if a house is ripped down, the pieces are most likely to fall into the northeast part of the basement.  Automobiles can outrun tornadoes that usually move at speeds of 20 to 30 miles an hour.  If no able to drive away, do not stay in the car, get out, find a hole or a ditch and lie low (Battan ’61: 96-97).


Work Cited


Battan, Louis J. The Nature of Violent Storms. Anchor Books. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York. 1961

Bluestein H.B. Tornado Alley: Monster Storms of the Great Plains. 1999

Flora, Snowden D. Tornadoes of the United States. University of Oklahoma Press. 1953

Fujita scale. The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Columbia University Press. Infoplease. 2007

Kessler, Edwin. The Thunderstorm in Human Affairs. 2nd Edition. University of Oklahoma Press. Norman, OK. 1983

Lyons, Patrick J. A Remarkable Photo from Tornado County. Associated Press.  June 13, 2008

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). April 2011 tornado information. April 25-28 2011

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Storm Prediction Center. Monthly and Annual U.S. Tornado Summaries. 2000-2011

Sanders, Tony J. Act of FEMA - Hurricane Katrina. Hospitals & Asylums. HA-29-8-05

Sanders, Tony J. Care Pakistan: The Seeds of Flood Relief. Hospitals & Asylums. HA-21-8-10

Sanders, Tony J. Deepwater Horizon Spill Response Solution. Hospitals & Asylums. HA-8-6-10

Sanders, Tony J. FEMA– Hurricane/ Haitian Insurance. Hospitals & Asylums. HA-29-9-04

Sanders, Tony J. Tohoku, Kilauea and Fukushima.  Hospitals & Asylums. HA-14-3-11

Verkaik J. & A. Under the Whirlwind: Everything You Need to Know about Tornadoes but Didn't Know Who to Ask 1998