Tropical Storm Beryl and Tornado (yes, tornado) Safety

Tropical Storm Beryl radar image just before landfall

Tropical Storm Beryl is bearing down on the Florida coast as I write this post.  It looks as if it will come ashore with winds of 70 mph – just below hurricane strength.  While northern Florida will receive a beating from this storm, it’s obviously not going to be completely devastating event.  As a matter of fact, many Floridians around Jacksonville are happy they are going to be getting some very beneficial rains as it that area is currently in a severe drought.

So… What does Beryl have to do with tornado safety?  It is true that many tropical systems produce tornadoes as they make landfall but that’s not the focus of this post.   Beryl makes me think of hurricane clips and hurricane clips make me think of hurricane (and tornado)-resistant building methods…

Through the years, the state of Florida has drastically strengthened it’s building codes so that buildings can withstand stronger hurricanes.  Storms such as massive Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the five Florida landfalling hurricanes in 2004 helped ensure the strengthening of the codes – and those changes have worked.  In recent years, the newer buildings along the coast have fared far better than older ones in hurricanes.

Many of these code changes involve making sure buildings keep wind forces on the outside of the structure (or “envelope” as it’s known to engineers) and not allowing the wind inside.  If winds breach the envelope, the amount of damage typically increases drastically.  So, using items such as break-resistant windows, strengthened garage doors and  hurricane rafter clips have all dramatically helped Florida’s coastal building stand up much better to the winds of hurricanes.  But these are lessons we can also use in tornado-prone areas of the country such as the Midwest, Great Plains and Southeast.  For instance, keeping the roof tied to the walls is of vital importance as wind forces from a tornado begin to affect a home.  If the roof is removed, the walls typically will fall in or out.

A Hurricane Rafter Clip attaches the roof rafter to the top sill plate of the wall

The roof acts to tie the walls together but if the roof is gone, there’s little to hold them up.  Using hurricane rafter clips, pieces of metal that tie the roof rafters to the top sill plate of the wall, can act to dramatically increase the chances of a roof remaining intact in a majority of tornadoes.  This clips are relatively inexpensive to buy and install and add only a nominal amount to the cost of a home’s construction.   These small extras during construction can go a very long way into making your home a safer structure for you and your family during violent weather.

To see a video on series on building hurricane-resistant homes from Bob Vila (with ideas that can be used in tornado-prone areas as well), click HERE.  You can also download wind resistant building suggestions from the Federal Emergency Management Agency HERE.

Over the next few years as the cost of cleaning up from tornadoes mounts, you’ll see more and more of these practices – and new ones yet to be developed – used in the construction of homes away from America’s coastlines as well…

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