Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:36 PM GMT on April 27, 2007
Mobile homes sold in the state of Indiana after June 30 this year must come equipped with a weather radio capable of alerting residents of an approaching tornado, thanks to a law signed by Indiana governor Mitch Daniels this week. The legislation, dubbed "C.J.'s Law", was named after 2-year old C.J. Martin, who died in a F3 tornado that killed 25 people in southwestern Indiana on November 6, 2005. Twenty of the victims lived in the Eastbrook Mobile Home Park in Evansville. The storm hit at 2am, when many residents were asleep and didn't hear the tornado sirens. C.J.'s mother, Kathryn Martin, pushed lawmakers to adopt the bill, pointing out that weather radios with a tone alert system could have saved many lives in the mobile home park.
This type of law makes great sense for mobile homes sold in tornado alley--think of it as a companion to your smoke detector in the house. Mobile home residents make up just 7% of the U.S. population, but account for 40% of the deaths in tornadoes. However, there are a number of issues that may make the law ineffective. Firstly, what type of weather radio will be purchased? There are many poor quality units out there, prone to radio interference, and difficult to program (weather radios require the user to input a special SAME code, needed to issue tone alerts when a tornado warning is issued). Secondly, the NWS sends out weekly or monthly test alerts on weather radio--how many mobile home owners will simply turn off their weather radios because they are sick of hearing the regular tests? Or turn them off after a few false alarms wake them up in the middle of the night for tornadoes that appear on Doppler radar, but never touch down? Thirdly, once the residents of a mobile home park are awakened by an alert, where do they go? Indiana, like most states, has no law requiring mobile home parks to have a tornado shelter. However, there is now Federal money available for mobile home parks to construct tornado shelters, so the number of parks with shelters may increase in coming years. In summary, the law has the potential to save lives--but only if it is properly enacted.
Figure 1. Damage to C.J. Martin's mobile home park near Evansville, Indiana due to the November 6, 2005 tornado. Image credit: Paducah, KY NWS.
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