The 2023 tornado season is off to a windy start, with more than 108 tornadoes already confirmed within the U.S. There have been at least six EFU tornadoes, 33 EF-0, 50 EF-1, 17 EF-2 and two EF-3 tornadoes as of Jan. 25. More tornado reports are awaiting confirmation. States affected to date include Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
This profile will be maintained throughout 2023, focusing on the most impactful tornadoes for marginalized and at-risk populations. Tornadoes will be listed in reverse date, chronological order.
Jan. 24 – Texas and Louisiana: A storm system moved through southeast Texas and southern Louisiana during the afternoon and evening of Jan. 24 before continuing through Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle on Jan. 25. Damage assessments are currently underway, but the National Weather Service (NWS) is reporting at least an EF-2 strength twister in Pasadena and Deer Park, in Harris County (Houston suburb). Rainfall records were also set across Texas, with the City of Houston receiving 4.05 inches, which doubles 2011’s record of 1.94 inches. Although no confirmations have been made by NWS, several officials across southwest Louisiana reported seeing tornadoes and damaged homes, downed trees etc. The hardest hit area appears to be Ragley, in Beauregard Parish.
Jan. 22 – Florida and Georgia: Five tornadoes – two EF-2 and three EF-1 storms – moved through Florida and Georgia on the afternoon and evening of Jan. 22. The most severe of these storms was South Walton County, northeast of Miramar Beach. The tornado touched down in the Driftwood Estates subdivision and skipped over several streets (lifting up and touching down again). There was damage to several roofs, most consistent with an EF-1 storm, but some significant EF-2 damage on three homes, with major sections of roofs destroyed.
Jan. 12 – Alabama and Georgia: On Jan. 12, extreme weather and tornadoes left behind a path of destruction in Alabama and Georgia, with minor impacts in several other states. At least 38 tornadoes have been confirmed, including seven EF-0s, 19 EF-1s, 10 EF-2s and 2 EF-3 twisters. Fourteen tornadoes touched down in Alabama including an EF-3 named the Old Kingston-Lake Martin Tornado that affected multiple counties and killed seven people in Autauga County. Four of those killed were members of the same family, living a couple of blocks apart in Prattville. The tornado brought estimated peak winds of 150 miles per hour, and its path length was 76 miles, making it Alabama’s ninth-longest tornado track on record. In the city of Selma, which was hit by an EF-2 tornado, residents offered support to one another, continuing a long tradition of the city coming together after tragedy.
Tornadoes and straight-line winds caused damage and power outages across north Georgia and metro Atlanta. On Jan. 16, the NWS confirmed eight tornadoes in Georgia, including an EF-3 that traveled across Pike, Spalding and Henry counties. Manufactured homes were damaged in Henry County, Georgia, and the community was helping one other with the cleanup. A young boy was killed in Georgia when a tree hit the car he was in, as was a Transportation Department employee responding to the tornado damage.
The American Red Cross reported that nearly 1,000 homes received major damage or were destroyed across Alabama and Georgia.
(Photo: Tornado damage in Alabama, Jan. 13. 2023. (Source: Alabama Governor Kay Ivey via Twitter)
Jan. 2-4 – Multiple states: A severe weather outbreak across the central and southern U.S. at the beginning of the year resulted in 57 tornadoes in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The majority were EFU, EF-0 and EF-1, with four EF-2 twisters.
A wide EF-2 tornado near Jonesboro, Louisiana injured three people and damaged several homes. Another Louisiana EF-2 damaged electrical towers but had minimal residential or business impacts. A third tornado in Montrose, Arkansas damaged a mobile home, as well as other houses and vehicles, along with trees and power polls. The fourth EF-2 was near Deatsville, Alabama and caused mostly roof damage, as well as destroying boathouses at Jordan Lake Reservoir.
The NWS defines tornadoes as “a violently rotating column of air touching the ground, usually attached to the base of a thunderstorm.” Any thunderstorm can develop a tornado, but the most severe twisters are created inside supercell thunderstorms, defined by a rotating updraft. Tornadoes are measured using the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which rates them from EF-0 to EF-5. Scales are determined by the NWS after a tornado based on the amount of damage viewed on the ground. This helps investigators estimate the highest approximate wind speed that was sustained for at least a three-second gust.
Jan. 15, 2023 marked the mid-point of meteorological winter, a time period when we generally see fewer tornadoes. However, La Niña winters produce more tornadoes than winters without La Niña. In 2022, NOAA said there were 1,331 tornadoes in 2022, which is 9% higher than usual. Both 2022 and 2023 are La Niña years (as was 2021). La Niña is expected to end and transition to ENSO-neutral between February and April 2023. This should reduce the number of devastating disasters. The January storms were linked to the California atmospheric weather phenomena.
Since 1880, the percentage of fatalities during daytime tornadoes has decreased by 20% while the percentage of fatalities during nighttime tornadoes has increased by the same amount. Between 1880-1890, approximately 30% of tornado fatalities occurred at night. By 2010-2020 (the last period included in the study), the split was much closer to 50/50. Nighttime tornadoes kill twice as many people as daytime tornadoes annually.
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While there are many immediate needs in the wake of the tornadoes, it is also important that funders start planning for the intermediate and long-term needs of the affected communities.
Immediate needs include cleaning, repairing, tarping and rebuilding of damaged homes and businesses. This includes debris clean-up, which is significant because of the amount of damage and felling of trees. There will be a need to replace vehicles, personal belongings, appliances and furniture lost in the tornadoes.
As tornado alley shifts and storms move closer toward the Southeast, more urban areas will be affected. At the same time, many tornadoes also impact rural communities, which will not get the same attention as the bigger cities. For example, the City of Selma was hard hit by the tornadoes in mid-January and has received the most media attention, but smaller communities in the Black Belt were also affected.
Recovery in rural communities is slower and requires “patient dollars.” That means funders need to understand that progress will not occur as quickly as it does in bigger communities. Investments should be made over time: pledges of multi-year funding are very helpful in this regard, as is support for operating costs and capacity building.
People whose homes were damaged will need support securing new housing that is safe and affordable, or repairing their damaged homes. After a tornado, displaced residents may face challenges finding housing that meets their needs. The tornadoes affected people from all walks of life, some with insurance and others without. The destruction of manufactured homes (often called mobile homes) will also affect affordable housing availability in communities.
A number of the homes damaged or destroyed were manufactured homes (often called mobile homes). Depending upon the location of the housing, the homeowner may not own the land, only the building. Additionally, insurance is limited on manufactured housing, especially based on the age of the building.
Although manufactured housing can be physically vulnerable to tornadoes, they also represent an affordable and accessible housing option. Balancing safety with the benefits of manufactured homes can be a challenge. On Oct. 12, 2022, CDP hosted a webinar about the increased risks manufactured homes face and the role they play in disaster recovery.
In many parts of the country, demand for housing outpaces supply, complicating recovery efforts. Affected people living in rural areas or public housing and people from marginalized groups will need assistance identifying and securing housing.
A critical ongoing need will be unrestricted cash donations to support affected individuals and families. Direct cash assistance can allow families to secure housing, purchase items and contract services locally that address their multiple needs. It gives each family flexibility and choice, ensuring that support is relevant, cost-effective and timely. Cash assistance can also help move families faster toward rebuilding their lives.
Emotional and spiritual care
Emotional and spiritual care will be critical, especially for families of people killed in the storms, first responders and those in the tornadoes’ direct paths. Long-term mental health and trauma support will also be required. Some of the affected communities were impacted by previous events, which has left them with increased trauma from natural hazards.
There is also severe risk of poor emotional health, suicide or self-harming behaviors among farmers and ranchers after disasters. The Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network is designed to build “a network that connects individuals who are engaged in farming, ranching, and other agriculture-related occupations to stress assistance programs. The establishment of a network that assists farmers and ranchers in time of stress can offer a conduit to improving behavioral health awareness, literacy, and outcomes for agricultural producers, workers and their families.” They provide grants to help with this.
Business recovery will be critical to help communities rebuild. The tornadoes damaged or destroyed businesses, negatively impacting people’s livelihoods at a time when many were already struggling more than usual because of COVID-19 and recovery from other disasters. This is particularly true of small businesses.
Navigating assistance process
Disaster assistance may be available in various forms and from different sources. People will need help navigating a complicated assistance process, particularly undocumented people and people whose first language is not English. Small Business Administration (SBA) loans are very complicated. Many people do not understand the nature of loans and fear being saddled with high-interest rates.
A recently released study from the U.S. Commission on Human Rights found that FEMA did not equitably serve at-risk populations, including people with disabilities, people living in poverty and English as a second language speakers during Hurricanes Harvey or Maria in 2017.
The Center for Disaster Philanthropy will continue to monitor the impact of tornadoes and the needs that may arise.
To support tornado recovery efforts, please donate to CDP’s Tornado Recovery Fund.
(Source: Tornado damage in the Mount Vernon area in Mobile County, Alabama. Photo credit: Citronelle Mayor Jason Springer via Twitter)
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The National Weather Service defines tornadoes as “a violently rotating column of air touching the ground, usually attached to the base of a thunderstorm.” The U.S. is home to more tornadoes than any other country in the world, with approximately 900 to 1,700 tornadoes occurring a year throughout the country.
Rural populations often struggle with disaster response and recovery. Explore why.
Long-Term Recovery Groups
A long-term recovery group is a cooperative body that is made up of representatives from faith-based, nonprofit, government, business and other organizations working within a community to assist individuals and families as they recover from disaster.