Weather Talk: Tornadoes

Weather Talk

POSTED: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 10:15pm

UPDATED: Thursday, April 17, 2014 - 9:18am

Severe Weather Awareness Week: Tuesday, Tornado Facts & Safety

Today we are talking about tornadoes. A tornado is a rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm to the surface.

Tornadoes can happen at any time and anywhere. Nearly 1,000 tornadoes are reported in the USA each year, and results in over 1,500 injuries and more than 85 deaths per year.

The peak time for tornadoes—according to the NWS Storm Prediction Center—is March through June. The graph below brings truth to those months as the probability of tornadoes increases from a 30% probability in March to almost a 90% chance in June for the United States. According to the NWS Shreveport office, April is the highest month with tornadoes for our area.

Courtesy: NWS Storm Prediction Center

Based off a 30 year average, Texas leads the country in the number of tornadoes per year, with the second place going to Kansas.

Courtesy: NWS Storm Prediction Center

Tornadoes are not always simple to spot. If there is heavy precipitation falling, the tornado is considered rain-wrapped. Tornadoes cannot be stopped by man-made walls either.

When a Tornado watch issued, the environment is favorable for severe thunderstorms to develop with the potential for tornadoes. A tornado warning means that a tornado has been spotted on radar or by a storm spotter.

It is important to know your weather safety plan before the weather turns for the worst.

Here are tips to protect yourself and those around you in a Tornado Warning.

  1. Go to the lowest level (basement, if possible) and the most interior room or hallway of your house or building. Stay away from windows and cover your head to protect from flying debris.
  2. If you are in a mobile/portable structure or a car, abandon the car and seek shelters indoors. If there is no available shelter nearby, lie flat in a ditch and cover your head.
  3. Additional ways to protect yourself from debris: thick blankets, pillows, cushions, mattresses, and sleeping bags.

Tornado ratings and impact are determined by local NWS forecast offices. The scale for tornadoes is based off the Fujita Scale (now known as Enhanced Fujita Scale) by Dr. Theodore Fujita. This scale has six rankings from EF-0 (minor damage) to EF-5 (major damage). See the scale in more detail below.

Courtesy: NWS Huntsville, AL Forecast Office

Across Texas, we have had some significant tornadoes in years past. For those interested, there is an incredible book called Texas Weather by George Bomar. You can check it out at your local library or purchase it at your favorite bookseller.

This past Sunday, we had two tornadoes reported in East Texas.

Camp County: An EF-0 tornado with winds between 70-75 miles per hour touched down two miles north of Pittsburg. There were a few businesses that had roof and wall damage. The tornado was on the ground for about a minute, from 3:46PM to 3:47PM.

Houston County: An EF-1 tornado with winds near 100 miles per hour touched down in the city of Lovelady near an area of mobile homes. The most damage was near the mobile homes, with two large trees uprooted and a trailer that was moved off its foundation. The tornado lifted over a school. The tornado was on the ground from 4:45PM to 4:47PM. While there was no heavy storm that would show significant wind parameters on Radar, there was a shower near Lovelady.

Here are some most memorable tornadoes in the last several years for East Texas:

  • April 25-27, 2011
    • Tornadoes touched down in Harrison, Henderson, Panola, Rusk, Smith, Van Zandt, and Wood counties. EF-0 was reported over NW Smith county, EF-2 was reported over Panola county and injured two people, EF-1 was reported over Rusk county, and EF-0 in Wood county.
  • April 3, 2012
    • Tornadoes touched down in Franklin, Hopkins, and Titus counties. EF-0 reported in Franklin County near Hagansport with additional sighting and brief damage in Hopkins and Titus counties.
  • February 18, 2013
    • Tornadoes touched down in Rusk, Panola, and Shelby counties. Highest rated tornado damage was recorded twice as an EF-1 in Rusk county.
  • December 23, 2009
    • EF-2 tornado touched down in Longview. Tornado was on the ground for just over 15 minutes and the path length was 17 miles. Also, in Lufkin an EF-3 tornado touched down. The tornado lasted ten minutes and the path length was 4 miles. 

The deadliest tornado on record in Texas since 1900 happened in Waco on May 11, 1953. This tornado occurred on Mother's Day and touched down near Lorena and moved toward Waco. This storm was rated a F-5 tornado with winds higher than 260 miles per hour. This tornado killed 114 people and injured almost 600 people. Read more about the top ten deadliest tornadoes from the National Weather Service office in Amarillo.

If you have any tornado photos from other tornadoes in East Texas, feel free to post them on our See It, Shoot It, Share It page or leave a comment about tornadoes below.

Tomorrow, we will continue our talk about different types of Severe Weather—Severe Thunderstorms. Later on, we’ll discuss Flash Flooding and at the end of the week, we will discuss the importance of having a NOAA Weather Radio.

Continue to check back for more posts on the KETK Severe Weather Awareness Week. 

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