Recent Tornado Outbreaks That Have Affected Schools

Here are some severe weather events that have impacted K-12 in the past five years.

March 1, 2007: An EF4 tornado struck Enterprise High School in Enterprise, Ala. Although the high school followed proper protocol, the tornado still killed eight people. The fatalities happened when a concrete wall collapsed in a hallway. In another hallway, another collapse occurred, trapping many students for a period of time. The winds were so strong that cars were tossed about in the parking lot, and trees were uprooted. Buses were lined up outside to take students home early, but the storm hit before the students could be dismissed. FEMA and the National Weather Service (NWS) concluded that the loss to human life would have been far greater had administrators tried to evacuate because the tornado would have struck during bus loading and transport operations.

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May 22, 2011: An EF5 tornado devastated the town of Joplin, Mo., killing 160 people and injuring nearly 1,000. Video footage from Joplin High School and Joplin’s East Middle School showed school hallways that became wind tunnels, with large debris swirling through them. Fortunately, the tornado occurred on a Sunday, and schools were not in session. The video has prompted Joplin school administrators to no longer use hallways as tornado shelters.

This raises some valid questions about the use of hallways for severe weather sheltering. For example, many schools have used hallways that are not suitable as shelter areas such as hallways that have exterior doorways. At the same time, the elimination of hallways as shelter areas could cause mass casualty losses in some schools.

March 2, 2012: An EF4 tornado struck the town of Henryville, Ind. Henryville Elementary School sustained a direct hit, as did Henryville High School. Administrators there were forewarned of the severity of the storm and decided to send students home early. No students were lost to the tornado, although several bus drivers were forced to stop and seek emergency shelter while taking their kids home. Fatalities would almost certainly have occurred if students had not been sent home.

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