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Florida's Tornadoes Are the Deadliest in the Country

Florida's Tornadoes Are the Deadliest in the Country
`Photo by Justin1659 via Wikimedia Commons

Compared to the miles-wide F5 monsters that roar across the Kansas and Nebraska plains, Florida's tornadoes are usually quaint little dust devils that pop up momentarily and never get the space to grow into city-destroying catastrophes.

Yet it's the Sunshine State's mini-twisters that are the deadliest in the nation, according to a new federal study out this month. The reason is very Florida: Everyone here is either really old or lives in a mobile home, so even small tornadoes are often killers.

The study comes via the Southeast Regional Climate Center in North Carolina, where meteorologists studied years of data to calculate the average deaths per mile that a tornado travels along the ground.

The surprise winner is Florida, where an average of 2.4 people are killed per 100 miles that a twister rolls through the state. That's five times deadlier than in Kansas.

And it comes despite the center's acknowledgement that Florida doesn't exactly produce Hollywood-ready giant tornadoes. "The average annual tornado frequency in the southeastern U.S. is highest in Florida," the center writes in another recent study. "However, most of the tornadoes are weak... and spawned by tropical cyclones."

Even a weak tornado is enough to lay waste to trailer parks full of retirees, though, and Florida has more of those than anywhere else in the United States.

"People are just much more vulnerable in a mobile home than they are in a regular home," the center's director, Charles Konrad II, tells USA Today.

Unlike the Midwest, the Sunshine State is usually ill-prepared for twisters. Our homes may have hurricane shutters, but few have basements, which are the safest hiding place during a tornado. Experts tell USA Today that Florida's tornadoes are often harder to spot than the behemoths raging through the Midwest because they pop out of low-hanging clouds with less warning.

Before you go digging your own safety shelter under your backyard palm trees, though, bear in mind that most of Florida's deadly tornadoes hit in the northern part of the state, along "Dixie Alley," which stretches from Arkansas and Louisiana east in the Carolinas.

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