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Currently showing: Climate/natural disasters > Floods/storms

21 May 13 14:29

Here at Swiss Re we are shaken by the devastation caused yesterday by the massive tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. Our thoughts are with the people who lost their loved ones, those who are still trapped in the rubble and or who are displaced. Our support goes also to those who are working hard to help and rescue.

After a relatively quiet April, storm activity has increased in the mid-West of the United States over the past few weeks. This includes yesterday's tornado. With early reports of more than 91 fatalities, this is becoming the deadliest US tornado since the even stronger tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri two years ago, claiming 158 lives (see page 23 of Sigma 2/2012 Moore was hit by another EF-5 tornado on May 3, 1999, causing the loss of 44 lives. On average, we observe a tornado outbreak claiming 100 or more lives about once in 10 years. Losses from tornadoes and thunderstorms have shown a consistent upward trend in recent years. One reason is urbanisation in rural areas and increasing assets in areas exposed to natural hazards.

Our role is to help communities affected by events like this. Right now, this is about supporting those who have been hit worst by yesterday's storm. In the long run, we need to work together to build resilient communities and to prevent such tragedies from happening. I include a map from Swiss Re's CatNet showing the area affected by this week's tornado.

Category: Climate/natural disasters: Floods/storms

Location: Oklahoma, United States


Patrick Reichenmiller - 21 May 2013, 3:44 p.m.

Yes, the devastation is absolutely shocking as these pictures show - and more are coming in: As I post this, the official death toll is at 24 and many are still missing. See the Guardian's live blog for updates on the latest developments: And here's a picture of the Oklahoma National Guard in action from flickr

Alicia Montoya - 22 May 2013, 6:08 a.m.

Here are some horrific before and after images that show the sheer devastation:
It's humbling to think how powerful mother nature is and yet another reminder of why building resilience before disaster strikes is key. In this case, though, what would pre-emptive measures look like? Building codes to enforce concrete housing? Not sure anything would work in this case: Looks like this baby was determined to destroy everything it found along its way :(

Rashunda Tramble - 22 May 2013, 9:35 a.m.

I've been in a hurricane and a tornado. Both were eye-opening experiences, especially the tornado. I was in a car when it hit and felt the car turn and lift off of the ground just a tad. Then everything was eerily quiet.

In any case, I think the ability to build resilience depends on what we're trying to be resilient against. We have a tendency to say we're building resilience against natural disasters, but is it correct to group all disasters together? For example, what is the cost of strengthening a hurricane-prone area's infrastructure vs a tornado-prone area's infrastructure?

Gavin Montgomery - 22 May 2013, 8:13 p.m.

Slate has a helpful interactive map of all deadly tornados in the U.S. since 1950 right here:

I was slightly stunned by the sheer number of events and the scale of the damage they cause. Is mitigation and prevention possible and, if so, why hasn't it happened. You'd have thought that tornados would have been top of mind since L Frank Baum wrote the Wizard of Oz in 1900.

The article sources its data from the NOAA's National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center, which also has data showing that this has actually been a pretty moderate year for tornados thus far:

Andreas Schraft - 23 May 2013, 1:51 p.m.

Safe rooms in buildings can go a long way in protecting people from being killed or hurt by tornadoes or hurricanes. Constructing a safe room costs about $8000 to $14000 according to FEMA Clearly, when we talk about resilience we need to know what we want to be resilient against. Safe rooms will protect you from tornado force winds and from hurricane force winds. But you may not want to seek shelter from hurricanes in a safe room if a storm surge is a concern. Also, it makes most sense to fortify public buildings where many people stay at the same time, such as schools and hospitals.

Alicia Montoya - 25 May 2013, 7:55 a.m.

Thanks for the NOAA links, Gavin. Is it me or do they seem to be moving northwards (see 30-20-10 year Annual Average Number of Tornadoes by State map)? Is the weather system that creates tornadoes changing/expanding?

To Andreas' point on building resilience, I guess it gets really interesting when you look at areas vulnerable to a combination of disasters, say coastal areas that can be hit by storm surge AND hurricanes, for instance. Would better building codes help? 8-14 grand sounds like a pretty hefty price to pay for a safe room, especially if your house is blown off in the process. Unless it's insured, of course. What's the insurance penetration in that area?

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