Over the past decade, the world has watched in horror as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, mudslides, tsunamis and most recently, one of the largest typhoons on record, caused death and destruction in epic numbers. With meteorologists predicting even more intense storms in the future, some homeowners are finding a simple yet ingenious way to minimize their vulnerability: building a dome home.
The domes' balanced shape is self-supporting and strong enough to withstand the force of an EF5 tornado, a monster hurricane or a powerful earthquake. Dome buildings made of concrete can deflect falling buildings and flying debris, even airborne trees and cars. Plus, the roof won't blow off.
"People feel safer in a dome," says design engineer and Texas resident Nanette South Clark. "Domes have a double curvature like an egg so they're very strong. They're the buildings of the future."
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Clark, who helped design space shuttle launch systems, grew up in a dome home herself. It was designed by her father, David South, who was inspired by the intricate balance and symmetry of Buckminster Fuller's geodesic spheres. South created his "Monolithic Dome" as a round, freestanding structure that could be economically built to serve as protection against natural disasters and a unique living space.
"This is an answer," insists Clark's husband Gary, vice president of Monolithic sales and marketing. "It's the strongest disaster-preventative shape that can be built for the dollar."
In fact, today the Monolithic Dome Institute has taken its vision globally to build domes for residential and commercial use. Concentrating on areas prone to natural disasters, the company is currently aiming to build 20 dome shelters in Birmingham, Ala., a city devastated by tornadoes in April 2011. In 2006, Monolithic built 71 dome homes—an entire village—in Indonesia after the mass destruction caused by an earthquake.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency agrees that domes can play a part in disaster preparedness. In 2012, FEMA spent millions of dollars to build dome shelters in Texas communities that had been hard hit by tornadoes. In May, a photo on the FEMA website showed how well a dome fared compared with a conventional building after the EF5 tornado in Moore, Okla.
The problem, say dome advocates, is that meteorologists are predicting even more violent weather systems and domes are still a rarity. The last decade has seen a tenfold increase in major earthquakes worldwide, according to a recent United States Geological Survey, as well as some of the deadliest hurricanes and tornadoes on record. In 2012 alone, 251 people died in the U.S. in weather-related disasters that cost $104 billion.
MIT scientist Kerry Emanuel, one of the world's top experts on hurricanes, published a paper this year predicting that the world will see even more intense tropical storms in the future, in combination with rising sea levels. Emanuel's 2005 article published in the international science journal Nature foreshadowed 2013's Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, (death toll 6,000) and 2008's Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar (death toll 138,000.)
"Hurricane intensity should increase with increasing global mean temperatures. ... This trend is due to both longer storm lifetimes and greater storm intensities. ... My results suggest that future warming may lead to an upward trend in tropical cyclone destructive potential, and—taking into account an increasing coastal population—a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the twenty-first century," he wrote in the Nature article.