Recipe for Disaster: How the Dynamic Ingredients of Risk and Exposure Are Changing the Tornado Disaster Landscape
Ashley, Walker S.
Strader, Stephen M.
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Tornado disasters and their potential are a product of both hazard risk and underlying physical and social vulnerabilities. This investigation appraises exposure, which is an important component and driver of vulnerability, and its interrelationship with tornado risk in the United States since the mid-twentieth century. The research demonstrates how each of these dynamic variables have evolved individually and interacted collectively to produce differences in hazard impact and disaster potential at the national, regional, and local scales. Results reveal that escalating tornado impacts are driven fundamentally by growing built-environment exposure. The increasing tornado disaster probability is not uniform across the landscape, with the mid-South region containing the greatest threat based on the juxtaposition of an immense tornado footprint risk and elevated exposure/development rates, which manifests—at least for one important impact marker—in the area’s high mortality rate. Contemporary, high-impact tornado events are utilized to emphasize how national- and regional-level changes in exposure are also apparent at the scale of the tornado. The study reveals that the disaster ingredients of risk and exposure do vary markedly across scales, and where they have increasing and greater overlap, the probability of disaster surges. These findings have broad implications for all weather and climate hazards, with both short- and long-term mitigation strategies required to reduce future impacts and to build resilience in the face of continued and amplifying development in hazard-prone regions.