Conventional wisdom says site-built homes — traditional homes often made of brick and mortar — are better able to withstand tornadoes than mobile, or manufactured, homes. It’s sound logic, even with the construction improvements made to mobile homes during the last decade.
However, statistics from the National Weather Service and the American Red Cross are unveiling an interesting twist on the happenings of April 27.
The NWS has been able to identify where 166 of the storms’ 248 Alabama victims died. Of those 166, 29 percent of them died in mobile homes, the Birmingham News has reported. Sixty-five percent died in site-built homes. Needless to say, that’s a stark difference from what conventional wisdom would normally say.
As expected, this discussion has pitted the manufactured-home industry against those who remain vocal in the belief that those homes are death traps during tornadoes. Indeed, Sherry Norris, executive director of the Alabama Manufactured Housing Association, told The News, “The stats are changing in our favor.” Jim Sloan of the Alabama Manufactured Housing Commission took that a step further: “Manufactured homes stood up at least as well as site-built homes.”
Others disagree — particularly weather researchers who, along with television weathermen, have long preached the need to evacuate mobile homes during tornadoes and shelter in a basement or lowest-floor room of a site-built home, if possible.
Despite the April 27 data, that’s where our opinion falls. Tornadoes are never a laughing matter, but long-term information from several decades shows it’s not advisable to hunker down in a mobile home when the winds are at tornado speeds.
For well-known economic reasons, Alabama is an important state for manufactured-home retailers. Nearly 15 percent of homes in this state are mobile homes. Only three states have a higher percentage. And from 2000 to 2010, as The News report explained, 54 percent of Alabamians who died in tornadoes did so in mobile homes.
One horrific April day doesn’t diminish that fact.
The manufactured-home industry should be commended for taking this issue seriously, and for improving the construction standards of its new models. So, too, should Gov. Robert Bentley for his support of requiring mobile-home parks to have in-ground tornado shelters. That safety measure should be mandatory.
April 27 was a different kind of weather day in Alabama. It hardly mattered where you sheltered if you were in the path of an EF-4 or EF-5 tornado. But common sense still prevails: the strongest structures provide the best protection.