Tornadoes can be truly terrifying, and deadly, but not as much as they might seem at the time. The National Severe Storms Laboratory estimates there is less than a 1 percent chance that a tornado will even hit any given area in a year's time, and even those that hit will probably produce relatively few injuries and even fewer deaths. Only one person is believed to have died in the Iowa City storm.
So the 10 percent chance of getting hurt by a tornado may be off by a factor of 10.
Just experiencing one tornado can be frightening enough to force survivors to prepare for the next one, but maybe not. Suls thinks the participants in the study who expected to improve their odds in the years ahead probably fell far short of the mark.
"They didn't do much," he said. "It was very rare for people to get even the basic things done."
Iowa City may not be in the heart of tornado alley, but "we get a lot" of nasty storms, he said. More than two years after the storm that demolished a Catholic church and a sorority house – but spared the occupants – "the damage was still visible, sometimes stunningly so."
The evening before the twister hit, Suls had dinner in the home of a colleague. The next evening, his friend's house was gone.
Suls neighbors lost a few trees, but his home was spared.
Tornados are fickle. They wipe out this, leave that.
And the tornado season is just around the corner.