Tornado Scars: The Long-term Imprints of Disaster on the Texas Urban Landscape




Monfredo, William

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Scientific professional literature contains little on the long-term imprints of tornadoes upon the built landscape. "Tornado scars" describes the long-term existence of the visual impacts and evidence of historic tornadoes upon the constructed landscape. This research on these scars presents a theoretical framework, details the threat from tornadoes, provides a history of tornado documentation, and details the development of the Fujita Scale. It then examines and proves the existence and longevity of a variety of tornado scar elements for the first time in order to understand the nature and depth of "scarring" that extreme natural events have on the human landscape. Field work across 19 locations affected by 15 strong and violent tornadoes during the last half of the 20th century included study sites at Knox City, San Angelo, Waco, Dallas, Silverton, Wichita Falls, Hale Center, Lubbock, Vernon, Paris, Reno, Blossom, Balch Springs, Mesquite, Garland, Fritch, Jarrell, and De Kalb in Texas. In addition to collecting and compiling new data, documenting and photographing appropriate evidence, and tabulating the frequency of tornado scars and elements at study sites, a typology was developed to include categories for tornado scar elements named monuments, foundational remnants, remnants of tragedy, superficial, and symbols of disaster. There appears to be little distinction among ofF-3, F-4, and F-5 tornadoes in their ability to create long-lasting tornado scars and scar elements, except that the F-5 tornadoes in this study that killed at least 27 people resulted in monuments. Although foundational remnants such as old driveways and concrete foundations are particularly common, there appears to be little relationship between the frequency of tornado scar elements and the number of years elapsed since the events, recent race and ethnicity, median household income, and median home value statistics at study sites. However, the frequency of tornado scars and scar elements does appear to be related to whether a study site is categorized as large or small with respect to recent population statistics and spatial extent; large study sites tend to possess more tornado scars and scar elements than small locations. Also, tornado scars and scar elements generally do not appear to maintain a form of the original, distinct and defined swath through the constructed landscape beyond approximately three years. An additional contribution of this work includes a method for determining paths of poorly documented storms and the development of street-level maps of early tornadoes. Tornado scars provide an opportunity to educate and communicate to residents of tornado-prone areas the significant impact of severe storms. Future studies that include thematic perception tests can confirm and augment the relevance of tornado scars upon the built landscape.



tornadoes, weather damage, tornado scars


Monfredo, W. (2002). Tornado scars: the long-term imprints of disaster on the Texas urban landscape (Unpublished dissertation). Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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