NWC REU 2014
May 21 - July 30



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Motivators and Important Factors Influencing Decisions Made During the Oklahoma Tornadoes of May 2013

Julia Ross, and James Correia, Jr., and Daphne LaDue


What is already known:

  • 3 deadly tornado events occurred in central Oklahoma in a two week time span in May 2013 (National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office: Norman, OK 2014).
  • During the third tornado event, a mass exodus of people tried to drive away and ended up gridlocked on the interstates as the storms barreled through. When Garfield (2014) calculated that hundreds of drivers could have died.
  • Vehicles do not make safe shelters (Marshall et al 2008). Scientists wanted to know what motivated people to drive away and put themselves in danger.

What this study adds:

  • It helps us understand why people drove: Important factors: Respondents with past direct experience with tornadoes were more likely to stay home. Respondents with a lesser income, those who were younger (20-39 years old), or those who had some higher education (≤ a bachelor's degree) were more likely to drive away.
  • 44% of respondents expressed fear during the events. Vulnerability of both self and home was expressed in survey responses.
  • 33% don't feel safe in their homes. 35% didn't know that they could strengthen their homes (mitigate) but 50% would be willing to spend/have spent some money to mitigate.


There were three deadly tornado events in central Oklahoma in a two week time span in May 2013. A mass exodus of drivers occurred during the third event, clogging multiple interstates upwards of 60 miles away from the main storms. Scientists needed to understand what motivated people to act the way they did so they could better anticipate people’s actions and better communicate to the public in the future. To gain a reliable understanding of this, surveys about what people did during the events were created, distributed, and collected. Factors correlated to driving were those with incomes of less than $30,000 and incomes between $70,000 and $100,000; younger age (20-39 years old), and some higher education (a complete or incomplete Bachelor’s degree). Past direct experience with tornadoes was correlated to people staying at home, yet 33% of respondents did not feel safe at home. Of the 77 surveys collected, 27 (35%) respondents had never heard of mitigation before—the strengthening of their homes. Fear was commonly expressed (44%) with an undercurrent of self and home feeling vulnerable. Through these findings, scientists will be better able to anticipate Oklahomans’ responses to tornadic events and the reasons behind them.

Full Paper [PDF]