Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Scar on the Earth

Earth Observatory - Moore, OK
In the image above, you can clearly see the path of Moore's EF-5 that did so much damage. The scar is a reminder of why being prepared and giving as much warning as possible to communities in the path of these storms is so vital. In addition to the lead time meteorologists can give communities of a storms anticipated path, it takes the will of those in positions of power to institute substantive changes to ensure that when storms of this magnitude impact populated areas, that the damage is minimized. For communities in Tornado Alley that 'will' should center on promoting stronger building codes, specifically with Tornados in mind. While momentum has been building around this issue, there is still no movement on adopting stronger codes so that when the repair and rebuild of Moore and the surrounding communities gets underway, they have to build back stronger.

The prevailing mindset is that to build homes to withstand these severe wind events would not be economical, however engineers are coming out saying that is a fallacy as illustrated by the 'Insight' article below. As population densities and suburban sprawl continue to transform the midwest, more communities are going to get "in the way", and by looking at the graphic below, they already are:
map created by IDV Solutions

Just like new flood maps take time to create, changing building codes isn't something that can happen overnight, but the 'can do' attitude that exists in Tornado country means that no one is going to wait to rebuild, revised codes or not. By waiting too long to strengthen codes many homeowners may face a similar fate next time the sirens go off.

Additional Reading:
Oklahoma’s Building Codes Don’t Factor For Tornadoes (
Insight - In U.S. tornado alley, building practices boost damage (


  1. Wow, that tornado track graphic is quite something. The impact that zoning and ordinances have on everyday life is astounding and largely unrecognized. Zoning impacts everything from the way a community looks and feels, to the soundness of the buildings and infrastructure that are the trees in the forest.

    And as you described, a can-do attitude is something to be admired; I would imagine those who are rebuilding quickly know as well as anyone what it will take to build back even stronger. At the same time there is wisdom in a thoughtful approach to zoning and rebuilding, and thoughtful considerations for codes in other regions that face similar hazards; but as you say it's imperitive that those changes are on the table now....And while I know that the insurance industry and simple economics motivate code changes, I think meaningful public understanding of mitigation strategies like code updating is essential to buy-in and ultimately better community in the long run.

    Although it’s not necessarily directly relevant, there are some parallels to the efforts at greening. Here are two articles about Pittsburgh.,1

    1. Julia, you're right about the impact zoning has on a multitude of facets of community life but when was the last time you heard people talking about zoning in casual conversation? I agree with you on your view that there needs to be more done to make the importance of these issues tangible, because as it stands zoning isn't the sexiest topic in the world; and therein lies the challenge of creating an environment of preparedness at a local level--what does it take for a community to buy into and ultimately take ownership of the initiatives that will eventually limit the losses when a disaster strikes?