According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States experiences an average of more than 1,000 tornadoes per year. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notes in Tornado Risks and Hazard in the Midwest United States that Indiana is at a significant risk of high-wind events. From 1950 through 2017, 1,365 tornado tracks have been recorded in Indiana.

Historic Tornado Tracks 1950-2017.

Madison County has been particularly hard hit, suffering 12 federal disaster declarations, seven of which resulted from storms including tornadoes. Between 1950 and 2017, 21 tornadoes have touched down. It experienced a F4 level tornado in 1972 and F3s in both 1953 and 2002. (NOTE: Understanding tornado levels can be a bit confusing. Prior to 2007, the Fujita intensity scale was used to indicate tornado strength e.g. F4; as of 2007, tornadoes have been classified according to the Enhanced Fujita intensity scale e.g. EF3.)

The most recent event was May 27, 2019, when severe thunderstorms and multiple tornadoes affected Indiana and Ohio. The town of Pendleton in Madison County was especially impacted with about 75 homes damaged. Other Indiana counties also experienced tornadoes in the evening of May 27. The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado in Montpelier in Blackford County Additionally, a tornado was spotted in Grant County.

Madison County Historic Tornado Tracks 1950-2017

Because of its disaster history, Madison County began to collaborate with The Polis Center in 2017, updating its Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan (MHMP). Part of the MHMP update process is to identify mitigation strategies that the county and its communities will work on over the next five years. Participants ranked tornadoes as having the highest calculated priority risk for the county out of the 14 natural hazards analyzed.

At the time of the May 2019 tornado, Madison County was in the process of requiring all critical facilities to have NOAA weather radios and encouraging the use of these radios by residents and businesses. Additionally, the county and multiple communities were discussing the need to enforce requirements of the International Building Code to ensure that buildings are structurally sound to withstand hazards. All participating communities planned to provide safe rooms in new public facilities and a few communities were establishing safe rooms and community shelters in vulnerable locations.

The damage of this newest tornado underscored the value and urgency of updating the county’s multihazard mitigation plan to minimize harm to people and structures. The Polis Center is also currently working with Blackford County to update its MHMP.

Indiana Department of Homeland Security tornado precautions:

  • Move to one of the identified safe locations and cover the head and neck with arms. Blankets, pillows and furniture can provide additional protection.
  • If in a vehicle, the best choice is to get out and take shelter in a strong building. If no building is available, stay in the vehicle, lower the head below the window and place arms over the neck and head to guard against injuries.
  • Do not take shelter in underpass. Strong winds can cause damage to the structure and cause it to collapse.
  • Individuals living in mobile or manufactured homes should move to a shelter with a strong foundation.
  • If possible, bring pets indoors and secure them to prevent escaping