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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. 

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Even in Real Time, the Northern Lights Look Like a Beautiful Timelapse Video
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Nothing compares to seeing the Northern Lights in person, but this video shared by The Kid Should See This is a pretty decent substitute. Though it may look like a timelapse, the footage hasn’t been altered or sped up at all. The undulating green lights you see below are what the aurora borealis looks like in real time.

Astro-photographer Kwon O Chul captured the footage of the meteorological phenomenon in Canada’s Northwest Territories in March 2013. The setting, the Aurora Village in Yellowknife, is a popular destination for tourists coming to see the Northern Lights up close. In the video, you can see how the camp’s glowing teepees complement the colorful ribbon of lights above.

Even if you plan your Northern Lights sightseeing trip perfectly, it’s impossible to guarantee that you’ll get a clear view of the aurora borealis on any given night, since factors like solar activity and weather conditions affect the light show’s visibility. But if you want to know what to expect when the lights are at their peak, take a look at the clip below.

You can check out more of Kwon O Chul's photography on Facebook.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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Alaska Got 15 Inches of Snow in 90 Minutes Last Week
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Alaska is obviously no stranger to snow, but this month's white weather will likely go down in the state's record books. As The Weather Channel reports, Thompson Pass—a 2805-foot-high area in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains—received a whopping 15 inches of powder in just 90 minutes on Wednesday, December 6.

Thompson Pass sits just outside of Valdez, a tiny port city on Alaska’s south coast. Located along the Gulf of Alaska, Valdez is perhaps best known for the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and for its rich Gold Rush history. Today, it’s important for commerce, since it’s the northernmost ice-free port in North America. But ice-free doesn't mean blizzard-free: The city is regularly cited as one of the snowiest places in the U.S., if not the snowiest. On average, locals can expect to see (and smell) 300 or more inches of frozen precipitation per year. As for Thompson Pass, it very often receives more than 700 inches of the wet stuff in a year.

Still, Mother Nature truly outdid herself on December 6, when Thompson Pass was slammed with what weather historian Christopher Burt deemed to be one of modern history’s most intense snowfalls. By the storm’s end, 40 inches of heavy snow had accumulated in just 12 hours, according to The Washington Post.

Who angered the winter weather gods? Or, more scientifically speaking, which atmospheric conditions led to the storm? According to experts, a stream of warm water vapor from the Pacific Ocean hit Alaska’s coast, traveling through an aerial channel known as an “atmospheric river.” When atmospheric rivers hit land, they release this water vapor as either rain or snow, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Intensifying the phenomenon was the North American Winter Dipole, which The Washington Post’s Jason Samenow described as a “fancy term to describe abnormally warm conditions in the West and cold conditions in the East.”

"Under such a pattern, the jet stream, the super highway for storms that divides cold and warm air, surges north in the western half of the nation, and crashes south in the eastern half,” Samenow said.

Valdez residents are accustomed to snow, but last week's storm was particularly challenging for townspeople. An avalanche buried Richardson Highway, the city’s only overland route that leads in and out of town. It reopened on Thursday, December 7, according to The Cordova Times, but driving conditions were poor.

While extreme, the Thompson Pass blizzard might not be history's weirdest snowfall. For example, arid countries like Kuwait and Iraq have experienced snow. In January 1887, 15-inch snowflakes were reportedly spotted at Montana’s Fort Keogh. And in 1921, over six feet of snow fell between April 14 and April 15 in Silver Lake, Colorado—the most snow to ever fall in a 24-hour period in the U.S.

[h/t The Weather Channel]

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