Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Anniversary of Joplin Tornado

A year ago today, 161 lives were lost due to a devastating EF-5 tornado that ripped through Joplin, MO.   Over 8,000 residential structures and over 17,000 lives were directly impacted by the storm as it ripped through the city on a summery Sunday afternoon during the midst of a severe weather outbreak.  The Joplin tornado ended up trumping over other tornadic episodes from 2011 -- the Tuscaloosa tornado event in April, the Springfield tornado event in June -- and ended up standing out as the dominant severe weather story for the United States in a rather turbulent weather year.

To put the amount of cleanup and recovery into perspective, Hurricane Irene caused $1 billion of damage throughout New Jersey and about $15 billion of damage along its path throughout the Mid Atlantic and Northeast, covering over a dozen states.  The Joplin tornado itself caused $2.8 billion in damage over a path of just 22 miles.  Irene's death toll in the United States and Puerto Rico totaled 47; over three times as many casualties occurred in the Joplin tornado.  Our part of the world is not one that is prone to EF-5 tornadoes so it isn't something we're accustomed to seeing outside of television imagery...but the scale and scope of damage over a smaller geographic area should help how powerful these type of storms can ultimately get.

Life in Joplin is turning around, quickly in many cases.  3,000 permits have been issued for renovations or new construction in areas hit by the tornado, totaling over $300 million in value.   While construction is quickly replacing destruction with new life and new buildings, there are some phases of rebuilding that have yet to take hold.  One is the lack of traffic signs and signals, many of which were blown away in the storm.  City leaders are working to get nearly 2,000 traffic signs replaced and federal funding may soon be on the way for them.  Also, the powerful tornado uprooted and ripped apart many older trees that stood for decades in the neighborhoods the storm tore through.  The landscape, despite construction taking over in many places, will not look the same for decades to come as new trees slowly take over the landscape in areas where the old, broad trees used to stand.

The Joplin tornado was just one of many on that day in a tornado outbreak that stretched from Wisconsin to Oklahoma, with the vast majority of severe weather a year ago today occurring farther north and northeast.  However, one storm dropping one incredibly powerful tornado become then signature event for a potent year of severe weather in the US.