Patty Ingalls, NSSL NOAA via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Patty Ingalls, NSSL NOAA via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Why Does It Seem Like Tornadoes Target Mobile Homes?

Patty Ingalls, NSSL NOAA via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Patty Ingalls, NSSL NOAA via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The idea that tornadoes are magnetically attracted to mobile home parks is almost a morbid joke in the United States—a way to cope with the predictable horror of seeing these vulnerable communities destroyed year after year, killing and injuring dozens of people. Mobile homes, commonly known as trailers, are so frequently destroyed in bad storms that it almost seems like these structures are targeted for destruction by tornadoes. The factoid is somewhat true, but for the wrong reasons.

A map showing the tracks of every recorded tornado in the United States between 1950 and 2015. Map: Dennis Mersereau

The United States averages about 1000 tornadoes every year. Most of those tornadoes touch down in the central and southern parts of the country, but they can and do happen in all 50 states. A huge majority of tornadoes—80 percent, in fact—don’t cause too much damage and wind up on the lower end of the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which is used to estimate a tornado’s winds based on the damage it produces.

Most structures can stand up against the winds of a small tornado. Not without damage, of course, but if you’re in a well-built home or office building, you have good odds of coming out of an EF-1 tornado with four walls and most of a roof dangling above you. Mobile homes are much different.

A map showing the percentage of mobile homes in each county and parish in the United States. Map: Dennis Mersereau

A significant percentage of homes in rural parts of the United States are mobile homes. The number of residences that are mobile homes is greater than 10 percent in many parts of the South, the West, and around the Appalachian Mountains. The number of mobile homes in the South is particularly concerning when you overlay historical tornado tracks on the above map.

All recorded tornado tracks between 1950 and 2015 overlain on top of the percentage of mobile homes by county. Map: Dennis Mersereau

Here we get to the crux of the issue. Tornadoes don’t go out of their way to hit mobile homes—you’re just more likely to live in one of these homes if you live in places where tornadoes are common. Compounding the issue is the fact that mobile homes simply aren’t built to withstand the winds of a bad thunderstorm, let alone a tornado. A huge part of tornado safety relies on the sturdiness of the building that takes a direct hit. Many mobile homes are built with cheaper construction materials that aren’t rated to withstand a fraction of the winds of a sturdier structure.

Tucked away in the guidelines that the National Weather Service uses to estimate the strength of tornadoes are their estimates for how strong a tornado’s winds have to be to destroy a standard, single-wide mobile home. According to their scale, it only takes winds of about 87 mph to shift a mobile home off its blocks. Winds of 89 mph are sufficient to peel the roof off the home. The entire mobile home begins to flip over and roll downwind once a tornado’s wind speed climbs up around 98 mph. The whole building is destroyed once winds exceed 100 mph.

Those destructive 100 mph winds would make a tornado rated an EF-1, which is on average the most common rating for tornadoes in the country. But 20 percent of all tornadoes that touch down are stronger than that, and many of them occur in regions where lots of people live in mobile homes. Compare that to the damage a single-family home would sustain in the same tornado: broken windows, a busted garage door, a broken chimney, and some roof damage. It’s a far cry from losing everything (and possibly everyone) you know and love. That’s the terrifying reality that many people face each spring and summer, and it’s why mobile homes are so frequently damaged in destructive storms. 

The Northern Lights May Be Visible Over Parts of America Tonight

The Northern Lights are rarely visible in the continental U.S., but Americans living in the Upper Midwest and New England occasionally catch a glimpse. Tonight, March 14, may mark one such occasion, according to Thrillist.

Thanks to a mild geomagnetic storm on March 14 and 15, the aurora borealis could be visible as far south as Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maine, the National Space Weather Prediction Center (SPWC) reports. The storm has been rated as a G1 geomagnetic storm, the weakest rating on a scale from G1 to G5, meaning it probably won’t disrupt power grids or satellites.

If you don’t live within the U.S.’s higher latitudes, you’ll have to be content with watching videos of the spectacular phenomenon.

If you do live along the country’s northern tier near the Canadian border, you can check the SPWC’s 30-minute aurora forecast to get a better sense of where the Northern Lights might appear in the sky in the near future.

[h/t Thrillist]

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This Just In
Thanks to Winter Storms, a New Jersey Beach’s Famous ‘Ghost Tracks’ Have Reappeared, YouTube, YouTube

Powerful storms have a way of unearthing history in unexpected ways, from Civil War cannonballs—uncovered in South Carolina by Hurricane Matthew in 2016—to the oldest human footprints outside of Africa, found in England after storms in 2013. In New Jersey, recent nor'easters have revealed rarely seen railroad tracks dating back more than 100 years, as reports (and which you can see in the video below).

The so-called “ghost tracks” in the sand between Sunset Beach and Higbee Beach in southern New Jersey were originally used to carry sand and munitions in the early 1900s. One part of the track, built in 1905, transported sand from the beach and dunes to a nearby sorting facility for the Cape May Sand Company. During World War I, Bethlehem Steel Company used another part of the tracks to transport munitions down the beach to test their power, according to The Press of Atlantic City.

This isn’t the only not-too-distant time that storm-shifted sands have made the tracks visible to beachgoers. After eight decades under the sand, they first appeared in November 2014, but were soon buried again. A storm uncovered a section of track in November 2017, though it too disappeared within a few months.

The whole section of railroad isn’t usually visible at once. According to, the part of the tracks uncovered by recent storms are more intact and level than the parts unearthed in 2017. It’s likely that future storms and shifting tides will reveal portions of the railroad again, but it’s hard to say which lengths will be uncovered or how deteriorated they might be. You can be sure that local photographers will be on the lookout during the next storm, though.



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