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Kentucky research may help design tornado-resistant homes

The Creekwood neighborhood in Warren County, Kentucky was one of the areas hit hardest by the December 2021 tornadoes.
Rhonda J. Miller
The Creekwood neighborhood in Warren County, Kentucky was one of the areas hit hardest by the December 2021 tornadoes.

Researchers who recently spoke with tornado survivors in Bowling Green, Dawson Springs and Bremen are hoping what they’ve learned will help lead to the creation of safer homes.

Researchers from the University of Oklahoma and Howard University gathered information from about 50 people in the three cities to ask what they remembered about sound and air pressure as they hunkered down in their homes, while the tornadoes turned hundreds of houses into rubble.

Lead researcher Daphne LaDue works at the Center forAnalysis and Prediction of Storms at the University of Oklahoma. She said she is also collaborating with a wind engineer at the University of Illinois and a structural engineer at Auburn University.

“So between the two of them, they’re looking at the broader wind field of the tornado," said LaDue. "How are the winds swirling around? And then, how are they impacting and affecting individual structures within the tornado?”

She said some of the atmospheric information will help in the analysis of areas close to the ground that may not be available on radar.

“What it’s more likely to be used for is understanding how buildings respond to tornado winds and what connections could be strengthened to help them hold together," she said.

There are building elements that can more securely keep the roof attached to the walls. She said those, and other structural improvements, can dramatically lower the odds of injuries and fatalities, as well as the loss of irreplaceable family photos and heirlooms.

LaDue said the tornado information collected from Kentucky residents can help architects design more tornado-resistant houses.

Rhonda Miller began as reporter and host for All Things Considered on WKU Public Radio in 2015. She has worked as Gulf Coast reporter for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, where she won Associated Press, Edward R. Murrow and Green Eyeshade awards for stories on dead sea turtles, health and legal issues arising from the 2010 BP oil spill and homeless veterans.
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