Journal article Open Access

Normalized Damage from Major Tornadoes in the United States: 1890 1999

Brooks, Harold E.; Doswell, Charles A.; Iii, Charles A. Doswell

Historical records of damage from major tornadoes in the United States are taken and adjusted for inflation and 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 the 3 May 1999 Oklahoma City tornado, with an adjusted $963 million in damage (constant 1997 dollars). Including an adjustment for growth in wealth, on the other hand, clearly shows the 27 May 1896 Saint Louis-East Saint Louis tornado to be the costliest on record. An extremely conservative adjustment for the 1896 tornado gives a value of $2.2 billion. A more realistic adjustment yields a figure of $2.9 billion. A comparison of the ratio of deaths to wealth-adjusted damage shows a clear break in 1953, at the beginning of the watch/warning/awareness program of the National Weather Service.

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