Fort Worth

It's tornado season in DFW and 'one of these days we're going to get it'

Scott Peterson has witnessed the devastation that comes from severe weather.

Last spring, as he tried to save plants for his brand new garden center that was just days from its grand opening, he got caught in a severe thunderstorm.

As 70 mph straight-line winds ripped apart his two greenhouses, he raced to his Ford F-150 pickup truck for cover. His Roots Garden Center had been dealt a near-crippling blow.

"I would have folded without the support of this community," Peterson said.

Now he's back in business and bracing for another season of spring storms, an annual onslaught of strong winds, flooding rains and hail.

And then, of course, there's the very real fear of tornadoes.

Since 1950, 93 tornadoes have touched down in Tarrant County, including 31 in April.

Mark Fox, warning and coordination meteorologist, at the National Weather Service Fort Worth office, said the peak of the tornado season has arrived.

"You really start to warm up," Fox said. "That's when the most volatile fronts come through, really for mid to late April. We're in that pattern where we've got fronts coming though every two, three or four days and you've got to be really vigilant."

Last year, Fort Worth and Tarrant County were spared a major tornado but the risk is always there.

"These things have been happening for a long time — one of these days we're going to get it," Fox said.

'The bigger the target'

Tarrant County has never recorded an EF-4 tornado, which can pack winds of 166 to 200 mph or an EF-5, which can go 200 miles mph and higher.

But the rapidly-expanding Dallas-Fort Worth area makes it harder for twisters to avoid populated areas. What was once farm land is now a brand-new subdivision.

Fox points to the April 3, 2012 tornado outbreak where one tornado struck Forney, east of Dallas.

"If you go back on Google Earth, those tornadoes would have hit fields five years earlier," Fox said. "The more we sprawl, the bigger the target. Any way you look at it, the Dallas-Fort Worth area is the largest collection of people in tornado alley."

Is there a sweet sport for tornadoes in the DFW area?

"The data shows Interstate 20 south to the middle of Johnson County and Ellis County, from Cleburne to Ennis, seems to have more," Fox said. "There are theories but no real explanation for why that has happened."

The storms that wrecked havoc on Peterson's business were part of an outbreak of severe weather on March 29, 2017 where two EF-O tornadoes touched down in northern Tarrant County, one near U.S. 287 and Bonds Ranch Road and another on the Keller-Watauga border.

Those were two of the three that touched down in Tarrant County last year with the other occurring in January 2017, part of an outbreak of six tornadoes across North and Central Texas.

Last year, there were 25 tornadoes in the 64 counties covered by the National Weather Service Fort Worth office. The most devastating tornado outbreak occurred on April 29, 2017 when seven tornadoes touched down in Van Zandt, Henderson, Rains and Hopkins counties that killed four people, including an EF-4 twister near Canton.

A total of 25 tornadoes touched down in the National Weather Service Fort Worth's coverage area in 2017, including three in Tarrant County. National Weather Service

While DFW residents may have forgotten that storm, it was was only 60 miles east of Dallas and if the conditions had set up a little different that day, the strong storms could have walloped the Metroplex.

The strongest twisters to hit Tarrant County have all been F3 tornadoes. Two occurred on March 28, 2000, which included the infamous downtown Fort Worth tornado and a second one that hit Arlington.

Hail a bigger threat

So far this year, there have been no tornadoes in Tarrant County but two EF-0 tornadoes hit Johnson County on Feb. 20 damaging homes and injuring 3 people on Feb. 20. A small tornado also touched near Desoto in Dallas County from the same storm outbreak.

While tornadoes likely cause the most fear, hail effects far more people.

The Insurance Council of Texas, an industry trade group, notes that 10 of the top 20 costliest storms in Texas were caused by hail damage, with eight of those storms impacting some part of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The May 5, 1995 Mayfest hail storm ranks No. 7 on the list.

There is hail every year but predicting where it will fall is almost possible.

"It's pretty tricky, "Fox said. "Last year we had some very big hail storms. They just didn't happen in populated areas."

Peterson is hoping that his gardening center will be spared of the nasty storms this year. And if all goes as planned, Peterson will start turning a profit.

The lean summer months of last year are starting to become a distant memory.

"That's when it got scary," Peterson said. "Instead of having the backup capital to get through that period, I had to rebuild. Everybody in the community — I couldn't have gotten through it without them."

But Peterson, who has always had a healthy respect for the weather, is philosophical about the damage inflicted on his business.

"Mother Nature — she'll give it to you sometimes," Peterson said.

Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @fwhanna

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