Population and energy elasticity of tornado casualties

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Abstract

Tornadoes are capable of catastrophic destruction and mass casualties, but there are yet no estimates of how sensitive the number of casualties are to changes in the number of people in harm's way or to changes in tornado energy. Here the relationship between tornado casualties (deaths and injuries), population, and energy dissipation is quantified using the economic concept of “elasticity.” Records of casualties from individual tornadoes over the period 2007–2015 are fit to a regression model. The coefficient on the population term (population elasticity) indicates that a doubling in population increases the casualty rate by 21% [(17, 24)%, 95% credible interval]. The coefficient on the energy term (energy elasticity) indicates that a doubling in energy dissipation leads to a 33% [(30, 35)%, 95% credible interval] increase in the casualty rate. The difference in elasticity values show that on average, changes in energy dissipation have been relatively more important in explaining tornado casualties than changes in population. Assuming no changes in warning effectiveness or mitigation efforts, these elasticity estimates can be used to project changes in casualties given the known population trends and possible trends in tornado activity.

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