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UTEP-UGA Study Looks into Risks Associated with Bounce Houses

Last Updated on August 09, 2022 at 12:00 AM

Originally published August 09, 2022

By MC Staff

UTEP Marketing and Communications

Wind has caused 479 injuries, 28 deaths worldwide since 2000

A new study coauthored by Thomas E. Gill, Ph.D., professor of environmental science, examines the risks of weather events on bounce houses.
A new study coauthored by Thomas E. Gill, Ph.D., professor of environmental science, examines the risks of weather events on bounce houses.

EL PASO, Texas (Aug. 9, 2022) — At least 479 people were injured and 28 died in bounce house accidents worldwide due to weather events since 2000, according to new study coauthored by Thomas E. Gill, Ph.D., professor of environmental science at The University of Texas at El Paso.

“I became fascinated by the phenomenon a dozen years ago, when one weekend afternoon I noticed the biggest dust devils I've ever seen,” Gill said. “When I got home and turned on the news, the lead story was about a bounce house with three kids inside that had been picked up by another dust devil and was sent flying over several houses before coming down, injuring all of the children."

The study, which was recently published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, found more than 130 bounce house accidents due to weather events since 2000. But the research, which was led by John Knox, Ph.D., professor of geography at the University of Georgia, cautions that these estimates are likely an undercount.

These injuries are on top of an estimated 10,000 emergency room visits in the United States each year because of bounce house-related accidents that regularly result in broken bones, muscle sprains and concussions. But fewer than half of U.S. states have explicit statutes and regulations for safe bounce house usage, the study found. Seventeen states have no guidelines at all or specifically exclude inflatables like bounce houses from regulation.

Many of the wind-related accidents happened on what seemed to be pleasant weather days, according to the research: a cool and sunny day after a cold front with clear skies, a hot but calm day that triggers a dust devil or a nice summer day with a thunderstorm somewhere off in the distance. More than 80 of the 132 events identified by the study were caused by cold fronts or post-cold front conditions, dust devils and overhead or distant thunderstorms. 

Also known as bouncy houses, magic castles, jumping balloons or bounce castles, the portable playhouses are common fixtures at birthday parties, carnivals and even wedding receptions. They cost less than $100 to rent on average in the U.S., according to the study. 

“These bounce houses aren’t something to set up and then forget to stake them into the ground,” Knox said. “What could go wrong? The answer is that it could blow away in winds that are not anywhere near severe levels. Some of these cases were in purely clear skies.”

Only 19 states’ regulations cite the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards, which set a maximum wind gust speed of 25 miles per hour unless the bounce house has been secured by a professional engineer. The standards also require a meteorologically savvy attendant on site for commercial bounce house use.

Of the 132 bounce house incidents identified by the study, more than one out of every five occurred with wind speeds lower than those deemed unsafe by the ASTM standards. Over a third of the accidents occurred with observed wind speeds between 0 and 20 miles per hour, and more than half occurred at or below the 25 mile per hour mark.

The researchers spent a decade searching for wind-related incidents, resulting in tens of thousands of Google searches and alerts to plot the locations, date and weather conditions of each of the 132 documented cases found globally. Multiple authors conducted independent analyses using a variety of sources including National Weather Service observations and satellite imagery to classify the weather conditions. The researchers also performed independent analyses and classifications of state regulations for inflatable devices.

The researchers used this information to create a website to document their findings and provide safety tips for consumers.

About The University of Texas at El Paso

The University of Texas at El Paso is America’s leading Hispanic-serving university. Located at the westernmost tip of Texas, where three states and two countries converge along the Rio Grande, 84% of our more than 24,000 students are Hispanic, and half are the first in their families to go to college. UTEP offers 169 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs at the only open-access, top-tier research university in America.