David Roueche: Storm Chaser

You might expect your first day as a graduate student to be spent in meetings or filling out paperwork. Not so for David Roueche. He jumped in a car with his advisor and headed to Tuscaloosa, Alabama on the heels of one of the worst tornadoes in U.S. history.

There he worked with a team of engineers sifting through rubble and documenting the dreadful details of how hundreds of homes had literally come apart at the seams when a gargantuan

tornado ripped through town just a few days prior.

What they found was sobering.

“The majority of the damage could have been avoided with some basic building design improvements,” Roueche said. The findings were the same one month later when the crew assessed damage from a monster tornado in Joplin, Missouri.

“There is a myth that there is nothing we can do to tornado-

proof a house,” he said. “But even with an EF-5 tornado like the one that hit Joplin, only the center of the storm’s path is un-survivable.”

The researchers found that homes just 100 to 200 yards away from the storm’s centerline were ravaged by winds more on par with smaller, more common EF-1 or EF-2 tornadoes.

And that, he said, is something engineers can design a home to withstand-no concrete bunker required.

Approximately 90 percent of all tornadoes that have struck the U.S. are EF-2 or lower category storms, he said. And they account for 50 percent of the economic losses suffered. If homes were designed to withstand these smaller, more frequent

storms; it could literally save taxpayers and homeowners

billions of dollars annually.

As a PhD student in the University of Florida department of civil and coastal engineering, Roueche is working with fellow researchers to develop practical guidelines and new construction materials for tornado-resilient structures.

“Thousands of tornadoes strike in the U.S. annually-claiming lives and wreaking economic disaster. It is unacceptable,”

he said. “As engineers, we should feel obligated to provide practical solutions that can help mitigate

these losses.”