Will spring bring tornadoes back to North Texas?

It’s been 15 years since a tornado hit downtown Fort Worth.
It’s been 15 years since a tornado hit downtown Fort Worth. Star-Telegram archives

Last spring’s tornado season was surprisingly quiet.

There were only two tornadoes in the six-county Dallas-Fort Worth region and none in Tarrant County.

Mark Fox, the National Weather Service’s warning coordination meteorologist is concerned that North Texans might become complacent about preparing for severe weather.

“People tend to remember the last thing that happened,” Fox said. “It’s been awhile.”

The most recent deadly tornado in North Texas came on May 15, 2013, when an EF-4 tornado packing 180 mph winds struck the Rancho Brazos neighborhood just outside of Granbury. Six people were killed by the tornado, one of 19 that touched down that day in North Texas.

It’s a grim reminder that we reside in tornado alley.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” Fox said.

And as the population continues to boom in DFW — especially in suburban areas to the north and south — the chances increase each year that a tornado will strike a populated area.

“We’re just making our target a little bigger,” Fox said.

Fox points to the April 2, 1957 Dallas tornado as an example, an EF-3 that killed 10 people.

“If you superimpose today’s population growth on the path of that tornado, you will get an Oklahoma City-type tornado,” Fox said. “There’s more people, more schools, more buildings now than there were back then.”

Tornadoes and Twitter

In some ways, however, Fox thinks we may be better prepared for a tornado similar to the one that tore through downtown Fort Worth on March 28, 2000.

While many people were caught off-guard by that late-afternoon EF-3 tornado, Fox said our hyper-connected world would help spread the word. Besides constant updates on Twitter, numerous smart phone apps also provide live weather alerts.

“With all of the social media we now have, I think everyone would know it’s coming,” Fox said.

The City of Fort Worth now has 20,666 subscribers signed up to the Nixle notification system that will send out alerts as storms approach.

After storm sirens sound, updates from Nixle come “in additional emails and text alerts confirming that severe weather,” said Juan Ortiz, Fort Worth’s emergency management coordinator.

‘Only takes one episode’

How soon those warnings will be needed remains to be seen.

While rain is in the immediate forecast, WFAA meteorologist Pete Delkus doesn’t see any major severe weather outbreaks happening over the next two weeks, but conditions could change later this spring.

“I think it will be very interesting in the middle of April and the month of May,” Delkus said. ‘We may have a little later start to the season but it only takes one episode.”

Any uptick in activity may come as a surprise to many.

The DFW area, which the National Weather Service defines as Tarrant, Dallas, Denton, Collin, Ellis and Johnson counties, has an average of six tornadoes per year. Texas averages 150 tornadoes a year and recorded 42 last year.

“Even if we have a more normal year it’s going to seem so much more active,” Fox said.

The experience of living through the 2013 storm has had an effect on Granbury-area residents, said Hood County Judge Darrell Cockerham.

“When the clouds come up and start rolling and there are tornado warnings, people will start looking up at the skies,” Cockerham said. “I don’t know if everybody would have done that before the last storm.”

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698

Twitter: @fwhanna

Deadly North Texas tornadoes

Here’s a look at some of the worst tornadoes that have hit the North Texas area:

April 7, 1957: Two tornadoes touch down in Dallas. The main tornado started in southern Dallas County and dissipated near Bachman Lake by Love Field. It killed 10 people and injured more than 200.

April 25, 1994: An F-4 tornado strikes Lancaster, destroying more than 200 houses and 50 businesses, including flattening most of the historic core. It killed three people.

March 28, 2000: A tornado forms west of downtown Fort Worth and plows into the Bank One tower, leaving two people dead and a 3.5-mile path of wreckage from the edge of River Oaks to Sundance Square. Minutes later, another twister rampaged through south Arlington and Grand Prairie. All told, the two EF-3 tornadoes claimed five lives and caused $450 million in destruction across the county.

April 13, 2007: A tornado touches down near Sylvania Park just east of downtown Fort Worth and moved into Haltom City. The tornado was estimated to have wind speeds up to 110 mph but caused extensive damage and killed one person.

April 3, 2012: Seventeen tornadoes touched in North Texas and Central Texas. An EF-2 tornado hit Kennedale and Arlington staying on the ground for more than four miles. At least 488 homes were damaged in southwest Arlington.

May 15, 2013: An EF-4 tornado, packing 180 mph winds, slams into the Rancho Brazos neighborhood outside Granbury, killing 6 and destroying most of the 120 homes in the neighborhood. Later that night, an EF-3 tornado with 140-mph winds cut 8.5-mile long path along Lake Pat Cleburne and into southern Cleburne. These were two of the 19 tornadoes that touched down that day across North Texas. The twisters caused an estimated $200 million in damage, according to the Insurance Council of Texas.

Source: National Weather Service and Star-Telegram archives.

All about tornadoes

Watches vs. warnings

A tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for a tornado. Watches are issued by the NOAA Storm Prediction Center.

A tornado warning means that a tornado has been reported by trained spotters or by radar. Local warnings are issued by the National Weather Service office in Fort Worth.

Safety tips

▪ Designate a shelter area in your home or place of business, such as a basement, and go there during severe weather.

▪ If you don’t have a basement or underground shelter, go to an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and get under a sturdy piece of furniture. Lower-level interior bathrooms provide the best protection if no basement is available. Don’t seek shelter in bathrooms that have a window or an exterior wall.

▪ Stay away from windows.

▪ Always abandon mobile homes.

▪ If you’re in a vehicle and no shelter is available, get out and find the lowest-lying area. Lie flat on your stomach and cover your head with your hands.

▪ For a list of storm shelter manufacturers who meet the National Storm Shelter Association building standards, go to www.nssa.cc/ProducerRoster.php

Source: National Weather Service, www.knowwhat2do.com

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram