KANSAS CITY, KS -- It's the largest-ever study of tornadoes. More than 100 researchers involved with the VORTEX2 (Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment 2) project will deploy a flotilla of instruments across the Great Plains over the course of the study, which runs from May 1 to June 15.
The aim of the study is to chase down tornadoes and surround them with an unprecedented fleet of mobile radars and other cutting-edge tools in order to examine in detail how tornadoes form and the patterns of damage they cause and what attracts them. Particular interest is in the investigation of the severe damage caused to mobile home parks.
Statistics from the National Severe Storms Forecast Center in Kansas City show that from 1975 to 1991 nearly 36% of all tornado deaths occurred in mobile homes. In April, 1991 a violent tornado struck Andover Kansas. 84 frame homes and 14 businesses were destroyed or severely damaged. Then the tornado hit a mobile home park, destroying 223 trailers. 13 people were killed in Andover - all in the mobile home park. 200 residents of the mobile home park did survive in the park's storm shelter. The idea that manufactured housing units, or mobile homes, attract tornadoes has been cited for decades.
Previous studies seem to confirm that tornadoes are attracted to trailer parks because mobile homes are positioned in matrix-like grids which increase the coefficient of friction for high winds. Thus, these large grid shapes are an attractant to wind and wind storms in particular, especially to high-powered tornadoes. The VORTEX2 study is an attempt to confirm these earlier results.
FEMA has donated 936 trailers previously used to house Katrina victims. The tenants were notified that their leases have been terminated for the benefit of the study. Those that did not leave in a timely fashion were further notified that their mobile homes were deemed uninhabitable due to phermaldahyde pollution.
Researchers are expected to position the donated trailers in a number of locations throughout the State of Kansas in a variety of patterns. They will determine which configurations are the safest. Since high rise buildings are seldom reported to attract tornado damage. One configuration in the experiment includes the stacking of mobile homes on top of each other up to a height 30 meters (10 mobile homes). This stacking effectively creates a vertical airfoil which should allow high winds easy passage around the structures and thus avoid major damage.
Results of the study are expected this fall.