TN--The number one state for tornado deaths, it's a title Tennessee would like
our area has been more a more deadly than tornado alley dating back to the
1950s. 1 in 10 tornadoes in Tennessee are EF-3 or stronger, that's a greater
percentage than anywhere in tornado alley.
answers, FOX 17 Skywatch Meteorologist Chris Justus went to the middle of
Oklahoma, one of the biggest tornado hot spots in the world.
2001 to 2010 Tennessee led the nation in tornado deaths with 100 people killed.
But in the heart of tornado alley, Oklahoma only had twenty deaths during that
same time. So what can we learn from our neighbors in the plains states to save
more lives back home?
starters, complacency. In Oklahoma tornadoes are taken very seriously. “We've
all either been in one or seen one and that stays with you for a lifetime so
part of it is just the culture," said David Ballew a Midwest City, OK resident.
For us in Tennessee, not so much. "People don't tend to care it's kind of like
business as usual," said Chyna Roman a Nashville Resident.
think that it's probably the Wizard of Oz that brought about the idea that
tornadoes are most common in the Great Plains states,” said Greg Carbin, the
Warning Coordination Meteorologist from the Storm Prediction Center in Norman,
OK. He notices a disturbing trend with Tennessee’s population, up 1.5 million
and nearly 25 percent since 1990. “It's this sprawl that basically, conceptually
makes a lot of sense, you're increasing the target for tornadoes," said
tornado deaths reflect that. 8 people were killed in the 1980's, 36 in the
1990's and 100 in the early 2000's.
deadly ingredient is forestry. Over half of Tennessee land is covered with
trees, compared to 24% in Oklahoma. That means less visibility and more
also learned areas like Oklahoma often get twisters during the day. While nearly
half of our tornadoes in Middle Tennessee occur after the sun has set. The fact that 1 in 10 homes in
Tennessee are mobile homes also contributes to more deaths.
of the ways Oklahoma is trying to save lives is by shutting down public
shelters. Emergency officials say they're actually more deadly. “The
encouragement to travel, in my opinion is one of the greatest hazards we
increase effectively by encouraging the use of public shelters,” said David
Barnes Emergency Management Director of Oklahoma County.
say they learned that lesson the hard way on May 3, 1999 as this F5 tornado with winds up to 318
mph moved through the suburbs of Oklahoma City. “There were multiple vehicles
for miles in that direction that were unrecognizable, they were wadded up like
soft drink cans and you absolutely could not tell what kind of vehicle they
were," said Barnes.
officials say government money is better spent helping individuals purchase
private in home shelters. They offer 75 percent rebates, meaning a $2,500 shelter will cost you around
Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas also offer rebates, Tennessee does not. In fact,
we found out over the past 10 years the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency
has spent $46 million dollars to build the same public shelters Oklahoma is
for Oklahoma," said Major General (Retired) James Bassham, the TEMA Director.
"Quite frankly we feel like the better bang for your buck is having a shelter in
a school or a community where you can get a number of people in there,” said
took a closer look; the $46 million dollars TEMA spent on public shelters
protect around 43 thousand people. But if TEMA would have put that money toward
rebates, 23 thousand private shelters could have been funded protecting nearly
138 thousand people, over three times more!
says they won't budge unless the money comes from somewhere else. "If people
have the money and want to build a storm shelter, they ought to build them a
storm shelter," said Bassham.
Fayette county man hopes to change that policy. He's started an online petition
with nearly 3,000 signatures, urging those in charge to change their mind. "With
every state around us providing some sort of assistance like that, it boggles
the mind," Ed Melton.
reached out to local lawmakers some didn't return our call. But spokesmen for
both Senators Alexander and Corker did tell us it's TEMA's discretion how they
want to use the funds. The governor's office also referred back to
is a link to the tornado shelter petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/tnstormshelter/signatures
Thursday, April 26 2012, 09:56 PM CDT
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