The 3 May 1999 Oklahoma City tornado was the deadliest in the United States in over 20 years, with 36 direct fatalities. To understand how this event fits into the historical context, the record of tornado deaths in the United States has been examined. Almost 20 000 deaths have been reported associated with more than 3600 tornadoes in the United States since 1680. A cursory examination of the record shows a break in 1875. Prior to then, it is likely that many killer tornadoes failed to be reported. When the death toll is normalized by population, a near-constant rate of death is apparent until about 1925, when a sharp fall begins. The rate was about 1.8 people per million population in 1925 and was less than 0.12 people per million by 2000. The decrease in fatalities has resulted from two primary causes: a decrease in the number of killer tornadoes and a decrease in the number of fatalities in the most deadly tornadoes. Current death rates for mobile home residents, however, are still nearly what the overall national rate was prior to 1925 and are about 20 times the rate of site-built home residents. The increase in the fraction of the U.S. population living in mobile homes has important implications for future reductions in the death toll.
Current affiliation: Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, The University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma
Corresponding author address: Harold E. Brooks, NOAA/NSSL, 1313 Halley Circle, Norman, OK 73069. Email: email@example.com