The author of this report has been asked to focus on a single hurricane or tornado and how it impact human and societal life. Being that it is quite recent and it was very destructive, the author of this report has chosen the EF-5 tornado that decimated much of Joplin, Missouri in 2011. The author will cover how the tornado impacted the earth, the damage toll, the death toll, the economic impacts involved and any permanent consequences that have resulted. While the city of Joplin is certainly in recovery mode, that tornado hit that city head-on and levied a massive amount of destruction.
One account of the Joplin tornado that is quite exhaustive and informative would be that of the National Institute of Standards and Technologies, or NIST. The “EF-5” label mentioned in the introduction makes reference to the Fujita scale of tornado intensity. There are only five points on the scale and the Joplin tornado was at the top of that scaleâ€¦five out of five. The total death toll of the 2011 Joplin tornado ended up at 161. This makes it the single deadliest tornado that has ever occurred, at least since records of such death tolls were kept starting in 1950. The overall damage toll in terms of buildings and structures is said to have topped $3 billion USD. In terms of real economic figures and what precisely was damaged, a total of 7500 residential structures (e.g. homes, apartments, etc.) were damaged and the same thing happened to about 553 business structures. Not quite half of the residential structures just referenced were completely destroyed (NIST, 2015).
In terms of “permanent consequences,” there are two that have already been mentioned. The 161 people that lost their lives cannot be brought back, obviously. Second, there were surely a lot of people that were burned, maimed or otherwise harmed or traumatized as part of what happened with that storm. Third, many people surely had insurance and other means to rebuild with little to no money out of pocket. However, anyone who lacked insurance was probably left with nothing to their name, at least in terms of their homes and cars. Indeed, those items make up most of a person’s wealth and resources a lot of the time (NIST, 2015).
However, there were some permanent changes that were conducted or at least proposed in light of what happened with the Joplin tornado. Specifically, the NIST recommended three major things. First, they insisted that there be a development of national performance-based standards for tornado-resistant design when it comes to buildings and infrastructure. This is perhaps wishful thinking when referring to an EF-5 tornado. However, most tornados are not remotely that strong. Second, they note that new tornado shelters should be installed in new and existing multi-family residential, commercial and other larger buildings that are meant to accommodate two to three hundred people at a time. Lastly, there was a call by the NIS to create national codes and standards for clear and consistent (not to mention accurate) emergency communications. Part of this would involve making sure that emergency managers, the National Weather Service (NWS) and the new media act in a joint and organized fashion (NIST, 2015).
Another source consulted for this report offers some other details that perhaps add some context and perspective as to just how nasty, large and cataclysmic this storm was. For starters, the storm was on the ground for a distance of just over twenty-two miles. That is nearly four hundred football fields. Second, the winds of the storm (which, as noted before, was an EF-5) were over two hundred miles per hour. For all that vigor and wrath, the storm only lasted about thirty-eight minutes from start to finish. The genesis point for the tornado being on the ground was near Highway JJ and West 32nd Street. This was verified by multiple storm-chasers in the area (Wheatley, 2013).
When the storm first hit ground, it seemed to be only an EF-1 tornado because the damage wrought at the starting point was not all that advanced. However, as the storm crossed 32nd street near Iron Gate Road, it evolved clearly into an EF-2 or EF-3 storm. When the storm reached Schifferdecker Avenue, it was at EF-4. All the while, the storm moved at a speed of about twenty-five miles. At its apex, St. John’s hospital was severely damaged. Some parking stops in place were tossed like twigs and those items weight about two to three hundred pounds each. Homes in the damage path were either crushed into dust or were ripped off their foundations entirely. A bank that was hit was entirely eviscerated except for the steel vault inside. In general, the storm came into town from the southwest and moving to the northeast and then it bent slightly southeast after it crossed the main interstate bisecting the town (Wheatley, 2013).
While the Joplin tornado does not match the proportion of destruction seen in storms like Greensburg, Kansas, it certainly hit Joplin very hard. It will take years (if not decades) to clean up and restore the strucures, infrastructure and frameworks that were in place before. However, the recovery (what can be brought back) is underway and will eventually come to fruition.
NIST. (2015). Joplin Missouri Tornado 2011. Nist.gov. Retrieved 16 June 2015, from http://www.nist.gov/el/disasterstudies/weather/joplin_tornado_2011.cfm
Wheatley, K. (2013). The May 22, 2011 Joplin, Missouri EF5 tornado. United States Tornadoes. Retrieved 16 June 2015, from http://www.ustornadoes.com/2013/05/22/joplin-missouri-ef5-tornado-may-22-2011/
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