USA EXPERIENCES FIRST TORNADO FATALITY OF 2002
April 23, 2002 The nation's first tornado death of the year occurred Sunday, April 21, when a Wayne City, Ill., man died from injuries sustained while inside his mobile home. This was the furthest the nation had gone into any year without a tornado-related death since record-keeping began in 1950. (Click NOAA image for larger view of tornado damage to home in Wayne City, Ill.)
The tornado tracked for almost 30 miles, reaching a maximum width of about 500 yards as it sliced its way from west of Wayne City to the eastern part of Wayne County during late afternoon Sunday. According to Christine Zagorski, a meteorologist at NOAA's National Weather Service Forecast Office in Paducah, Ky., there were 42 people treated at area hospitals, 13 were injured critically. She said the damage is indicative of an F-3 tornado on the Fujita Scale, with winds of 158 to 206mph.
According to Joseph Schaefer, director of NOAA's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., the year's first tornado death comes in a season with significantly fewer tornadoes than average. So far, only 96 tornadoes have occurred this year, much less than the typical count of nearly 200. Before this year, the latest anyone had died in a tornado in the United States was April 12, 1961, Schaefer said. On average, approximately 70 Americans are killed by tornadoes each year, with about 20 deaths typically recorded by mid-April.
Part of the reason for the low number of tornadoes and deaths so far this year has been unusual storm tracks this spring, Schaefer said. "Typically, spring tornadoes develop as storm systems move across the southeastern United States," he said. "This year, storms have generally moved to the north, or stayed over the Gulf Coast." The Wayne City tornado serves as a reminder to Americans to be prepared, especially since April, May, and June are typically the busiest tornado months of the year, Schaefer added.
NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory Researcher Harold Brooks said mobile home residents are at much greater risk of dying in a tornado than people living in permanent homes. Brooks said in the late 1970s about 25 percent of all tornado fatalities were in mobile homes. That has increased to 50 percent during the late 1990s, largely because a more significant portion of the population now lives in mobile homes. "Based on population trends, mobile home residents are killed at a rate 20 times greater than permanent home residents," Brooks said.
"This disparity means that people who live in mobile homes need to have a plan in place and be ready to act on that plan earlier when there is a lower level of threat than a permanent home resident might have to," he said.
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