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Normalized Damage from Major Tornadoes in the United States: 1890-1999 (Dr. Harold Brooks)

Normalized Damage from Major Tornadoes in the United States: 1890-1999 (Dr. Harold Brooks)

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Published by: National Press Foundation on Apr 08, 2011
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168
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OLUME
16W E A T H E R A N D F O R E C A S T I N G
NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCENormalized Damage from Major Tornadoes in the United States: 1890–1999
H
AROLD
E. B
ROOKS AND
C
HARLES
A. D
OSWELL
III
NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma
12 May 2000 and 7 September 2000ABSTRACTHistorical records of damage from major tornadoes in the United States are taken and adjusted for inflationand wealth. Such adjustments provide a more reliable method to compare losses over time in the context of significant societal change. From 1890 to 1999, the costliest tornado on the record, adjusted for inflation, is the3 May 1999 Oklahoma City tornado, with an adjusted $963 million in damage (constant 1997 dollars). Includingan adjustment for growth in wealth, on the other hand, clearly shows the 27 May 1896 Saint Louis–East SaintLouis tornado to be the costliest on record. An extremely conservative adjustment for the 1896 tornado givesa value of $2.2 billion. A more realistic adjustment yields a figure of $2.9 billion. A comparison of the ratioof deaths to wealth-adjusted damage shows a clear break in 1953, at the beginning of the watch/warning/awarenessprogram of the National Weather Service.
1. Introduction
Economic damage from tornadoes will tend to in-crease with time, in general, for at least three reasons.First, inflation means that prices of goods increase; sec-ond, except for periods of recession or depression, peo-ple and institutions have tended to acquire more wealththrough time (Katz and Herman 1997); and third, pop-ulation increases. Pielke and Landsea (1998) adjustedhistorical hurricane damage for inflation and wealth byconsidering the population in the counties affected byhurricane landfall. For the tornado problem, includingpopulation information is problematic. Although a typ-ical county is small compared to the size of a land-falling hurricane, only a small part of most counties isdirectly affected by even the largest tornadoes. As aresult, inclusion of population in adjusting for tornadodamage would properly be on a finer scale for the tor-nado problem. Given the difficulties of obtaining suf-ficiently accurate and precise tornado track and popu-lation information, we have chosen not to usepopulationdirectly in the analysis that follows. Instead, we willconsider simple methods to adjust for inflation and forwealth. The wealth measure does include the effects of population growth at a national level. However, giventhe variability of population demographics at the scaleof tornado damage, this should be considered only arough approximation of the effects of population chang-es on the normalized values.
Corresponding author address:
Harold E. Brooks, NOAA/NSSL,1313 Halley Circle, Norman, OK 73069.E-mail: brooks@nssl.noaa.gov
In addition, another fundamental difference betweenthe hurricane and tornado damage problems comes inthe completeness of the record. Since land-falling hur-ricanes are much rarer than tornadoes, the record of hurricane damage is likely to be much more completethan for tornadoes. In addition, the change in time of tornado reports is much larger than that of hurricanes,with the annual number of tornado reports increasingby about an order of magnitude in the last century (Gra-zulis 1993). As a result, we have focused our attentionon a small subset of U.S. tornadoes, those that are themost damaging. Even though we will not be able toaddress any issues of changes in overall tornado dam-age, we will be able to address any changes in the mostdamaging events.For inflation, the consumer price index (CPI)providesa useful measure. It expresses the cost of goods relativeto some fixed point in time (BLS 1997). In general, theCPI has been increasing since the late nineteenth cen-tury
1
(Fig. 1). The CPI is roughly 20 times higher thanit was a century ago. We can estimate the damage inconstant dollars for all events by adjusting the damageby the change in CPI between the year of the tornadoand the benchmark year. The year 1997 was chosen asthe benchmark year since that is the last year for whichwe have wealth information, although the choice is ar-bitrary. We note that Pielke and Landsea (1998) usedthe implicit gross domestic product (GDP) price deflatoras their measure of inflation. In general, the GDP de-
1
Data for the CPI back to 1800 are available online at http:/www.lib.umich.edu/libhome/Documents.center/historiccpi.html.
 
F
EBRUARY
2001
169
N O T E S A N D C O R R E S P O N D E N C EF
IG
. 1. CPI (solid circles) from 1860 to 1997 and fixed reproducibletangible wealth (wealth) (open circles) from 1925 to 1997 in theUnited States (1997 index value
100). Logarithmic scale.
flator provides a slightly lower estimate of the rate of inflation, particularly since 1980. It has thedisadvantageof having a shorter period of record, with estimatesgoing back only to 1940. As will become clear, we areinterested in a number of events prior to 1940 and,although it would be possible to make an estimate of the GDP deflator prior to then by using its more recentrelationship to CPI, we would like to avoid speculatingabout the GDP–CPI relationship prior to 1940. In gen-eral, the change caused by adjusting for GDP, insteadof CPI, would be 10%–15% for events prior to 1980.A measure of national wealth is the ‘‘fixed repro-ducible tangible wealth’(Katz and Herman 1997)(hereafter simply referred to as wealth). Data for thisfor the period 1925–97 are available from the Bureauof Economic Analysis (BEA 1998). It reached the $25trillion mark in 1997. Compared to inflation, wealth hasbeen increasing much more rapidly since 1925 (Fig. 1).Adjusted for inflation, the per capita wealth of the Unit-ed States has increased by a factor of 4 since 1925,according to this measure. The year 1997 was chosenas the benchmark year for both CPI and wealth sincethat is the last year for which the wealth data are avail-able, although the choice is again arbitrary.Our estimates of tornado damage up through 1995come from Hoffman (1902) and Grazulis (1993, T. P.Grazulis 1998, personal communication). The 1999Oklahoma City tornado is included with a $1 billiondamage estimate, based on press reports after the fact.We have listed 138 tornadoes dating back to the 1890Louisville tornado (Table 1).
2
The tornadoes on the listeither killed at least 20 people or had an inflation-ad-justed damage total of at least $50 million in 1997 dol-
2
The most notable tornado, in terms of property damage, prior tothe 1890 tornado (estimated at $3 million) is the 1840 Natcheztornado(estimated at $1.3 million). The additional challenges of going evenfarther into the past had led us to decide to start with the 1890 tornado.
lars, or both. The death toll restriction includes the 100largest death tolls since 1890 and the damage restrictionadds in a number of other major events with the hopethat no very large events have been left out.Based on records from the Storm Prediction Centersevere weather database, the tornadoes in the list pro-duced slightly over half of the total tornado damage inthe period 1950–95. Adjusted for inflation, the totaldamage from all tornadoes in the period was about$19.3billion, or a mean annual amount of $420 million. Themajor tornadoes during that period in the list here ac-counted for $10.2 billion, or a mean annual amount of $220 million. These values need to viewed with somecaution, because the quality of damage estimates fromindividual tornadoes is variable and annual tornadodamage is highly skewed. Emphasizing this latter point,the median annual damage is only $290 million and aquarter of the total damage during that 46-yr periodoccurred in four years (1953, 1965, 1974, and 1980).
2. Inflation-adjusted damage
Adjusting only for inflation, the most damaging tor-nado in the record was the Oklahoma City tornado of 3 May 1999, with damage in 1997 dollars of almost $1billion (Table 2). The title of ‘‘most-damaging tornadoin U.S. history’’ has changed often since 1966, whenthe Topeka tornado surpassed the 1896 Saint Louis tor-nado. Since then, tornadoes in 1970, 1975, 1979, and1999 have taken the place of Topeka as the most ex-pensive when adjusted for inflation. Therefore, the top30 events are dominated by the latter part of the 1900s,with 15 occurring in 1970 or later. Only two, the SaintLouis tornadoes (1896, including the damage path inEast Saint Louis, and 1927) occurred prior to 1930.Since there is no reason to believe that the meteorolog-ical aspects of tornadoes have changed, this bias towardrecent times is a result of changes in what is beingdestroyed, just as with hurricanes (Pielke and Landsea1997).
3. Wealth-adjusted damage
Adjustment for wealth can be made during the 1925–97 period in a similar manner to the inflationadjustment.Outside of this period, we must make some assumptionsabout the nature of the change of wealth.
3
The mostconservative method is to assume that the changes inwealth can be modeled by inflation. In other words, wecan assume no additional goods are accumulated. Thisis equivalent to assuming that the gap between the CPIand wealth curves (Fig. 1) stays constant.A method that is less conservative, but still requires
3
Thirty-six tornadoes are in record from 1890 to 1924 and twotornadoes are after 1997.
 
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1. Tornadoes in dataset. Location is the city or area most affected by the tornado. Dead is number killed and damage isunadjusted damage at time of tornado in millions of dollars.Date Location Dead Damage27 Mar 189025 Apr 18936 Jul 189315 May 189625 May 1896Louisville, KYMoore, OKPomeroy, IASherman, TXCentral MI763171734730.020.40.20.327 May 189611 Jan 189827 Apr 189912 Jun 189920 Nov 1900St. Louis, MO–E. St. Louis, ILFort Smith, ARKirksville, MONew Richmond, WINorthwest MS2555534117301220.20.30.218 May 19021 Jun 190322 Jan 19048 May 190510 May 1905Goliad, TXGainesville, GAMoundville, ALMarquette, KSSnyder, OK114983634970.210.10.10.324 Apr 190824 Apr 190824 Apr 190813 May 19088 Mar 1909LA–MS (family)LA–MS (family)Birmingham, ALGilliam, LABrinkley, AR143913549490.50.50.50.10.629 Apr 190929 Apr 190930 May 190923 Mar 191323 Mar 1917Rural MSRural TNZephyr, TXOmaha, NENew Albany, IN292934103460.10.10.151.526 May 191727 May 191721 Aug 191822 Jun 1919Mattoon, ILTN–KYTyler, MNFergus Falls, MN1016736572123.520 Apr 192020 Apr 19202 May 1920MS–AL (family)Meridian, MSPeggs, OK88367120.20.210 Feb 192115 Apr 192130 Apr 192428 Jun 192418 Mar 1925Gardner, LATX–ARRural SCLorain–Sandusky, OHTri-State (MO–IL–IN)315953856950.121121618 Mar 192512 Apr 19279 May 192729 Sep 192725 Apr 1929South–central KYRock Springs, TXPoplar Bluff, ARSt. Louis, MOStatesboro, GA39749879400.21.22.1220.96 May 19306 May 193021 Mar 193221 Mar 193221 Mar 1932Frost, TXKarnes County, TXCentral ALSylacuaga, ALNortheast AL413649413810.10.31.50.821 Mar 193221 Mar 193231 Mar 19339 May 193310 May 1933Northport, ALCentral ALJones/Jasper Counties, MSTompkinsville, KYLivingston, TN37313736350.50.20.30.20.15 Apr 19366 Apr 193616 Mar 194227 Apr 194212 Jun 1942Tupelo, MSGainesville, GACentral MSPryor, OKOklahoma City, OK2162036352353130.62.50.529 Oct 194223 Jun 194423 Jun 194412 Apr 19459 Apr 1947Berryville, ARCentral WVSouthwestern PAAntlers, OKWoodward, OK2910030691810.56151.581 Jun 194719 Mar 19483 Jan 194921 Mar 195221 Mar 195221 Mar 1952Pine Bluff, ARBunker Hill, ILWarren, ARJudsonia, ARCotton Plant, ARHenderson, TN3533555040380.83.61.33.50.73

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