2017 U.S. Tornado Deaths Near Three Dozen, and More Than Half Have Been in Mobile Homes

Chris Dolce
Published: May 17, 2017

The tornado death toll for 2017 has likely risen to 34, after deadly storms moved through the central U.S. Tuesday.

One death has been reported Tuesday in Barron County, Wisconsin, where a possible tornado severely damaged a mobile home park. Another fatality occurred when a suspected tornado hit Elk City, Oklahoma. When these are confirmed as tornadoes, the death toll will officially reach 34.

Most of the fatalities from tornadoes so far this year occurred during a Jan. 21-22 outbreak that killed 20 people in the South. 

(MORE: Tornado Central)

Map showing location and dates of all tornado deaths in 2017 through May 5. Not shown: The preliminary tornado deaths that occurred May 16 in Wisconsin and Oklahoma.

This year already has had more tornado-related deaths than all of 2016 – a total of 17 people were killed by tornadoes last year. That was the second-fewest tornado deaths in a year on record dating to 1940. For comparison, an average of 70 tornado-related deaths occurred annually from 1986 to 2015, according to NOAA.

(MORE: Above-Average Tornado Activity Doesn't Necessarily Mean Much for Climatological Peak of Tornado Season)

The death in Wisconsin this week once again illustrates the extreme danger of being inside a mobile home during severe weather, including tornadoes and even damaging straight-line winds.

Reinforcing this is the fact that a preliminary 19 of the 34 tornado-related deaths this year, or about 56 percent, have occurred in mobile homes.

That toll could have been even higher had an Arkansas family not gone into a storm shelter during a tornado in early March that destroyed their mobile home. The National Weather Service (NWS) said the damage to the mobile home was "likely not survivable."

The site of where a mobile home was destroyed by a tornado early March 7, 2017 in Searcy County, Arkansas. The NWS says a family of five received a tornado warning and went to a shelter before it was destroyed which likely saved their lives.
(National Weather Service - Little Rock)

About 96 percent of tornado-related deaths 1950-2011 were from EF2/F2 or higher rated tornadoes, according to tornadoproject.com. But weaker tornadoes can also be deadly if you are not in the interior of a sturdy structure. Through May 5, 28 of the 32 reported deaths this year occurred in strong EF3- and EF4-rated tornadoes.

(MORE: Why Tornadoes May Not Get Warned Even as Technology Improves)

The NWS says that nearly 40 percent of all tornado deaths have historically occurred in mobile homes. Residents of these types of homes should abandon them in favor of a sturdy building during severe weather. This alternative structure should be a part of a severe weather plan that is identified well in advance.

MORE: Mid-May Severe Weather Outbreak (PHOTOS)

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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