Federal money for DFW home storm shelters is gone in a whiff

Posted Friday, Jun. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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kennedy Federal money for home storm shelters came to North Texas this week.

And went.

About $1.3 million was soaked up by 400 homeowners in barely four hours Wednesday morning, depleting the Metro Safe Room Rebate Program before the sun came up.

Literally, the grants were gone overnight.

The website to apply opened at 1:15 a.m., scheduled at that time to handle expected heavy traffic on the web server at the Arlington-based North Central Texas Council of Governments. By 5:30 a.m, after 12,000 Web hits, the money was gone, and the much publicized website was closed.

If Texans are that eager to add a shelter to their homes, you can only imagine the feeling in Oklahoma.

Different counties there have reported different luck winning federal grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In Oklahoma, Moore city officials claimed federal paperwork requirements kept changing. But in a recorded message to applicants, an Oklahoma City official says the shelters were lost to budget cuts.

We know this: Never before have so many families and cities talked about building home “safe rooms” and school shelters.

“I never knew anybody in Texas with a storm shelter,” said Bill Bunting, the meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service’s Fort Worth office for 10 years and now the operations chief at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, near Moore.

Now, he and his family are on a list for a home “safe room,” a technical term denoting specific standards.

“I’m not making any money off this, but having a reinforced shelter will give you a lot more peace of mind when you hear a storm warning,” he said.

In Oklahoma, that would be a tornado shelter.

In Dallas-Fort Worth, the more common threat is hail.

Tornadoes are only half as frequent in Texas as Oklahoma and even less so south of, say, U.S. 380.

But our hailstorms are worse, Bunting said.

For years, the 1991 and 1995 hailstorms here were two of the 10 most costly storms in American history, eclipsing any tornado and all but a handful of hurricanes.

Oklahoma and the Plains get the wind shear that generates more tornadoes, Bunting said.

“In Texas, we wouldn’t have the wind shear, but instead we would get the moisture and supercell thunderstorms with big hail,” he said.

“With all that moisture, flash flooding is also more of a threat. And with the growth, a storm that used to move across the prairie is now hitting a subdivision. The flooding there is more severe.”

We’re lucky here.

The tornado near Granbury on May 15 was the region’s worst since the 1994 storm that wiped out half of Lancaster’s town square.

In 2000, a tornado plowed through downtown Fort Worth but after work hours, although two died in the West Seventh Street area.

We will not always be so lucky.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @budkennedy

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