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Tornado hits Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania, damaging buildings and causing minor injuries

The National Weather Service (NWS) has confirmed that a tornado hit Pennsylvania’s Wilkes-Barre Township on Wednesday night. This type of storm is unusual for the area.

“A severe thunderstorm moved across Luzerne County between 9:30 and 10:30 pm on Wednesday June 13 2018, producing an EF2 tornado in Wilkes-Barre Township around 10:00 pm,” The NWS wrote in a bulletin. “The tornado touched down near Mundy Street and Highland Park Boulevard by the Wyoming Valley Mall and traveled about a half mile southeast toward I-81 before dissipating. Numerous roofs were destroyed and windows blown out. Structures were sheared off near their foundation. Power poles were snapped with numerous lines down.”

The storm mainly damaged stores and restaurants in the township’s ‘business district’. Reports described “gutted” homes and businesses, flipped vehicles, and left debris throughout the area. Six people with minor injuries were reported by Thursday. However, this was likely the result of lucky timing; if the storm had hit a few hours earlier, the damaged area would have been heavily populated.

A bystander stands in front of several businesses in the area of the Wilkes Barre Township Commons after high winds ripped through the area, damaging several buildings and injuring multiple people Thursday morning June 14, 2018, in Wilkes Barre Township, Pa. (Dave Scherbenco/The Citizens' Voice via AP)
A bystander stands in front of several businesses in the area of the Wilkes Barre Township Commons after high winds ripped through the area, damaging several buildings and injuring multiple people Thursday morning June 14, 2018, in Wilkes Barre Township, Pa. (Dave Scherbenco/The Citizens’ Voice via AP)

Reports have emerged of people being trapped in their vehicles during the storm. One resident told the Citizens’ Voice that at first he “didn’t take [the warnings] seriously because we’re not supposed to get tornadoes here.” Another individual, who was working at the time, told the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader they secured the doors but there were still “tables and chairs flying through the windows.”

It’s not unusual that many people were unprepared for such an atypical event. Studies have shown that if a risk is not imminent, few people feel compelled to prepare. Human nature is often guided more by perceived risk than the facts, especially if the risk is inherent to the environment or out of our control. This is especially true for uncommon events.

Extremely destructive but rare events, such as the 9.0 Japan earthquake or the Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake on what was considered an inactive fault are referred to as ‘black swans’. Regardless of the potential damage, the less likely or immediate an event seems, the less inclined communities are to prepare for it, particularly if it requires a substantial investment.

This is where the concept of community resilience can be useful. Even if it is impractical to fully prepare for every extreme event that may occur, such as tornadoes in areas not used to them, building resilience contributes to recovery from all disasters. The ability to respond and recover to a disaster is not exclusive to the type. Simple steps such as having emergency supplies, knowing basic first aid, or how to secure yourself during different natural disasters (such as where to go in a structure during a tornado versus an earthquake) requires low investment, but fosters community connections and preparedness.

 

Source and Further Reading:

Tornado leaves path of ‘unbelievable’ destruction in PennsylvaniaThe Washington Post

Tornadoes do damage in northeastern PA: What we know so farPenn Live

Pennsylvania Tornado Collapse Multiple Buildings, Overturns Cars; 6 InjuredThe Weather Channel

Possible tornado pounds parts of PennsylvaniaCBS News

Japan’s ‘black swan’: Scientists ponder the unparalleled dangers of unlikely disastersThe Washington Post

Why You Don’t Really Care About the Next ‘Big One’City Lab