Roof expert explains why tiles turned into projectiles in Gardens tornado

Tornadic winds differ from hurricane winds
Posted at 6:49 PM, Jan 24, 2017

Florida is no stranger to powerful storms like hurricanes but the tornado that touched down in Palm Beach Gardens still has people wondering -- why did so many tiles rip off rooftops and turn into dangerous projectiles?

Norma Scherer is one of several homeowners in Mirabella at Mirasol dealing with damage from Monday's storm, despite living through several different hurricanes.

PHOTOS: Look at more pictures of storm damage

"I've lived here in Florida my whole life been through numerous hurricanes and seen damage similar to this. But It happens over an extended period of time with a hurricane. A day or so. This happened in a matter of minutes," she said.

Scherer lost 75 tiles on her roof, much of it scattered in the street and some in people's homes.

"Completely annihilated everything in it's path," said Scherer. "Just the strength of the winds, the impact that this wind had it just lifted them right off."

Neighbors like Consuelo Aliago across the street took the brunt of the damage.

"I said 'Oh my God...This is the end. God, have mercy on us,'" said Aliago, recounting the night broken glass and tiles exploded through the front of her home. "You see my garage door? There's holes everywhere."

"That's what was really shocking and surprising to see the tiles that were embedded in their walls," said Scherer.

Florida has strict building codes for hurricanes but one of the restoration companies working in the neighborhood says tornados put out an entirely different kind of destructive wind. Despite the roof tiles in Mirabella being fastened with nails and screws, the tiles were no match for the 90 mile per hour winds that lifts and sucks up debris into its vortex.

"Hurricane winds are normally direct force winds that come directly at the building and a tornado has swirling tornadic activity that is really something that you cannot build or plan for," said Arty Pione, Chief Operating Officer for Code Red Restoration.

Pione explained that the tiles are more common than shingles in South Florida.

"They're attached to roofs in several different ways, most of the time they are mechanically fastened with screws or nails," he said.

The hurricane season of 2004 and 2005 forced the Florida building code to change the way contractors attach tiles to rooftops. The new code focuses on the ridge tiles.

"Ridge cap tiles -- the ones that run up along the edge of the roof -- there's an enhanced ridge system now that wasn't in place before," he said. "There's kind of a metal channel that is adhered or fastened directly to the roof. And the tiles are now mechanically fastened to that ridge. So we don't lose as many ridge tiles as we used to."

The homes in Mirabella estates, which was built in 2004, had the enhanced system but Pione said there was no way to prepare for this tornado.

"When it comes to tornadic events like what happened the other day, there's not a whole lot you can do to prevent these tiles from coming off roofs just because those types of winds are just too difficult to plan for," he said.

Pione said he's more concerned about the aftermath of the storm, where dislodged tiles could fall off roofs and hit anyone walking nearby. He suggests people conduct regular maintenance on their roof to ensure its integrity. As crews continue to make repairs on the Mirabella rooftops, nails and screws will be used to ensure reenforcement.

Nonetheless, neighbors hope more can be done to make sure tiles become projectiles the next time a storm whips through.

"I think we'll all learn from this and see if there's things that we can take away from this. And see what we can do in the future to hopefully minimize any damage," said Scherer. "Unfortunately I think tornadoes are a thing unto it's own and who knows how much can be done."

We spoke to the Mirasol Homeowners Association, but they would not comment on whether or not the rooftops in their development were up to code. We also wanted to learn more about the roofs that were built with the homes but our calls to the neighborhood's builder, Kenco Communities, were not returned.