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Deaths in the South amplify extreme danger of manufactured homes during severe weather

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Posted at 7:32 PM, Dec 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-15 20:32:02-05

THE WEATHER CHANNEL — This week’s storms in the South that killed at least three people and injured nearly 25 more highlight the dangers of being inside a mobile home or manufactured home during severe weather. Most of the homes destroyed in the storm were manufactured. And at least one of the deaths occurred in a manufactured home.

In fact, of the 104 tornado fatalities in 2021, 23 were in manufactured homes, according to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center. In 2020, 39 of the 76 tornado deaths that year were in manufactured homes. Through Nov. 30 of this year, more than half of tornado deaths — 13 out of 22 — happened in manufactured homes. That's a lot, especially when you consider that only about 6% of the housing stock in the U.S. is made up of manufactured homes.

To really drive it home, the National Weather Service says you are 15-20% more likely to die in a manufactured home than a permanent home during severe weather.

The danger is magnified in the southeastern United States, according to Stephen Strader, an associate professor at Villanova University.

Strader specializes in what he calls "disaster geography," or studying the effects natural disasters like tornadoes have on society and our environment. Most of the manufactured homes in the Southeast exist outside of the typical mobile home parks you would see in other parts of the country.

“They're isolated on different plots of land by themselves or maybe with one or two other homes,” Strader said. “What that means is they're 20, 30 minutes away from the nearest shelter. So, if the (tornado) warning is 13 minutes away, and you're 20 minutes away from your shelter, it's the middle of the night. You have two kids, you have to get them out of bed. Your car may not want to start… (things) just start stacking up.”

The NWS advises all residents of manufactured homes to leave and get to a sturdier location when severe weather is in the forecast.

Strader’s advice is a bit more specific.

“What I tell people to do is make sure you have a place to go when the tornado watch comes out,” he says.

Tornado watches usually give you a bigger lead time to get moving than the warning.

Strader acknowledges this is easier said than done for many residents of manufactured homes, but it could mean the difference between life and death.