Tornado alley: A way of life for Texans (Videos)

A brief history of severe weather in the nation's number one state for tornadoes. Photo: Dimmit, Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas, April 5, 2012 — Welcome to spring time in Texas. I am not making light of the devastating events of two days ago, just relating that Texans expect severe weather of this magnitude this time of year, every year.

Rare twin super cell storms(video taken in Dallas) spawned at least a dozen tornadoes on Tuesday. Local TV stationChannel 8stated on its website, “The National Weather Service is continuing their investigation into the Kennedale/Arlington storm damage, but they have reported that the tornado that hit Lancaster, Dallas and Hutchins was an EF2. EF3 damage was reported in the Forney and Rockwall tornado.”

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that “‘Before the storms moved into Tarrant County, they hit Johnson County. A tornado believed to be a mile wide touched down on the east side of Joshua, from Keene to Trail Head Drive,’ Joshua Fire Department Battalion Chief Russ Bassham said.”

And,ldquo;Johnson County Sheriff’s Lt. Tim Jones said that four homes in the county were so severely damaged that they cannot be lived in, with roofs torn up and debris embedded in walls. A family hid inside one home when the storm hit.

Fort Worth tornado

Different parts of our country deal with different threats of nature: earthquakes, hurricanes, blizzards, volcanic activity and others. For Texas it’s not a matter of if severe weather will happen, but when it will happen.

And even though severe weather is pretty common here, it does not make loss of life and property any easier. More than a dozen people were injured Tuesday, but thankfully no one died. Storms damaged about 650 homes, knocked out power to 40,000 people and hail damaged 110 airplanes at Dallas/Fort Worth International airport. The storms did not affect the planes at Love Field in Dallas.

In the face of such destruction, it’s hard to believe that basements are a rarity here. Home construction consists of laying a concrete slab and building a house on it.

According to theNational Weather Service tornado season in Texas starts in April. That also means any kind of severe weather is common during this time — even if there isn’t a tornado. Video below: taken from a helicopter above Dallas - 4/3/12. 

We do, however,, have the option of building underground shelters or in-home safe-rooms.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA) lists other forms of severe weather that are common to Texas and other states within Tornado Alley:lightning,straight line winds and hail, and flash flooding.

Texas is not the number one state for lightning.Florida has that honor, but we get quite a few strikes from the thunderstorms and super cells that are spawned every year.

Straight-Line Winds are tornado strength winds that do not rotate but blow in straight lines (horizontal or vertical) and can exceed 100mph. They cause the most wind damage from thunderstorms. From them comes a downburst that often creates wind shear that is very dangerous to aviation. Wind shear was responsible for the crash of Delta Flight 191 at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on August 2, 1985.(straight line winds diagram)

Straight line winds

Flash Floods are the number one cause of deaths during thunderstorms. Normally gentle flowing creeks, streams, and rivers become torrential flows from excessive amounts of rain that is too much for regular run off or loosen soil until it gives way. Many motorists don’t realize that water can rise to dangerous levels without warning and that cars can float in only two feet of water.

According to United States Search and Rescue Task Force, ldquo;Flash floods occur within a few minutes or hours of excessive rainfall, a dam or levee failure, or a sudden release of water held by an ice jam. Flash floods can roll boulders, tear out trees, destroy buildings and bridges, and scour out new channels. Rapidly rising water can reach heights of 30 feet or more. Furthermore, flash flood-producing rains can also trigger catastrophic mudslides. You will not always have a warning that these deadly, sudden floods are coming.”

Although I’ve lived in Tornado Alley my entire life and have had to take cover several times, I wasn’t actually “in” a tornado until March 28, 2000. On that day a tornado roared through downtown Fort Worth heading east, in the direction of my house.

Jarrell tornado takes a house down to the slab.

Thankfully the power didn’t go out so we could hear the TV weather guy from the inner hallway where we were hiding. Experts say if you don’t have a basement or storm shelter, to go to the innermost room in whatever kind of building you’re in. Every room in that house had an outside wall. (Fort Worth tornado picture)

The storm came directly towards my house, somehow missed us, and then continued on its eastern path. There was another tornado that hit Arlington, Texas that day too. In fact Tuesday’s storm was the worst to hit that city since the 2000 twister.

The funny thing about my experience is that earlier in the day, I had cut back lots of trees and bushes in my backyard. The trimmings made a pile at the curb in front of my house that was ten feet long, six feet wide and three feet deep. The city of Fort Worth comes by, picking up debris like that a few times a month.

Upon inspection after the storm, we noticed the street was blown clean, yet not one twig was out of place in the pile. Go figure. That’s a tornado for you.

The deadliest tornado in Texas history happened in Waco, Texas on May 11, 1953. The F-5 twister was approximately one third of a mile wide; its 23-mile path struck the heart of downtown Waco. Witnesses said the heavy rain made it difficult for people to see the tornado coming towards the city.

Waco tornado damage

NOAA reports: “Killing 114 and injuring 597, the Waco tornado holds the somber title of the deadliest tornado in Texas history since 1900……The destruction was so massive, survivors waited up to 14 hours to be rescued and some bodies could not be recovered for several days following the disaster.”

And, “The F5 twister destroyed over 600 homes and businesses and damaged over 1000, including the Dr. Pepper bottling plant, which still stands today. 2000 vehicles also sustained damage. Monetary damages topped $41 million in 1953, equating to over $310 million in 2006 dollars. “The deadliest tornado in US history occurred on March 18, 1925. The Tri-State Tornado struck in the afternoon and crossed three states: Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

Startling statistics from the storm and its devastation shared by NOAA include:(Tri-State tornado path diagram)

Path of Tri-state tornado, 1925

* 219-mile path length

* 3/4-mile average path width (some accounts of 1 mile wide—a record width)

* 3 1/2 hours of continuous devastation (record path)

* 1:01 p.m.—tornado touched down 3 miles NNW of Ellington, Missouri

* 4:30 p.m.—tornado dissipated about 3 miles SW of Petersburg, Indiana

* 695 deaths—a record for a single tornado

* 2,027 injuries

* 15,000 homes destroyed

The catastrophe was so great that the entire town of Gorham, Illinois was destroyed.

Why was the devastation so great? NOAA states, “Communication was also in its primitive stage, as radio was just coming into existence in the larger cities during the 1920’s, and television wouldn’t make an appearance for another 25 years or so.”

People had never heard of the terms “tornado watch” or “tornado warning” then. Radar and satellite imagery were still science fiction. The fastest way to communicate at this time was by word of mouth. Yet a lot of people didn’t have telephones and even then there just wasn’t enough time to warn people.

Missouri school destroyed by tri-state tornado, 1925

Another factor is that the twister was so wide, up to a mile that people who saw it didn’t recognize it as a tornado. Some said it looked more like a huge cloud of dust.

Tornadoes happen all over the world with the US having the highest incidents and most destructive storms. Alaska has had the least amount of them with only two tornadoes between 1950 and 2006. Texas has the most tornadoes with an average of 126 per year.

So the next time there is a tornado watch or the tornado warning sirens go off, listen to what the experts say and take cover. The Weather Channel has a Tornado Safety and Preparedness page. It’s a great place to learn as much as you can about these storms and get information to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Video: Taken from a crop dusting plane surveying the Tri-State Tornado devastation - March , 1925.

Read more of Claire’s work at Feed The Mind, Nourish The Soul in the Communities at The Washington Times, her blog Sustenance For The Mind, and As We Were Saying….., blog of the Greater Fort Worth Writers Group. Join her on Facebook and Twitter

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Claire Hickey

Claire has held a Texas Cosmetology License, Certification in Surgical Technology and has decorated cakes professionally. She believes that life is a banquet to be experienced and wants to learn and do as much as possible while she’s here. This Stay @ Home Mom has always loved to write and thanks to the Communities @ The Washington Times has got her chance. Her curiosity and writing lead her to create her column based on “garbage in garbage out” theory to provide interesting and thought provoking pieces that enrich her readers. A proud member and Treasurer for the Greater Fort Worth Writer’s Group she is currently working on her first novel.  


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