While spring and summer are undoubtedly the most active times for severe thunderstorms across the United States, autumn also brings an increased risk of severe weather outbreaks. Dr. Gregory Forbes, a recognized severe weather expert, identified the second half of October and “especially November” as a notable time period for strong storm systems to develop. “In many ways, this is the counterpart to spring, when strong fronts and upper-air systems march across the United States. When enough warm, moist air accompanies these weather systems, the unstable conditions yield severe thunderstorms and sometimes tornadoes,” Forbes said. His statement came after he examined storm statistics and found six of the largest 55 known tornado outbreaks on record had occurred in the fall. Over 1,000 tornadoes impact the United States each year, and more occur in Texas than any other state.
There have been 1,053 tornadoes to date in 2019 in the United States, with the most recent outbreak impacting the Northern Dallas metropolitan area. The NWS Fort Worth storm survey team determined that the strongest tornado impacted North Dallas with estimated maximum winds of 140 mph, consistent with an EF-3 rating. The Dallas tornado was not only the most intense, but also the longest in duration. It was on the ground from 8:58 PM until 9:30 PM and had a path length of 15.75 miles. An EF-2 tornado was confirmed in the Garland community, with estimated maximum winds of 135 mph. Their storm survey team also confirmed four EF-1 tornadoes with an estimated maximum winds of 90-105 mph in Rowlett, Rockwall, Midlothian, and Kaufman. There were also three EF-0 tornadoes with estimated winds of 80-85mph in Ferris, Kaufman, and Wills Point. Additionally, there were numerous reports of hail, with most ranging in size from 1-2 inches, with isolated reports of hail up 3 inches in size. Straight-line winds with estimated speeds of 80 miles per hour damaged structures in Stephenville. At the time of this writing, storm surveys were still being conducted, so our list of damages may not be representative of all that occurred in Texas Sunday evening.
The National Weather Service in Fort Worth determined that the tornado would be “life-threatening” before it touched down during “Sunday Night Football,” lifting debris more than 20,000 feet in the air. Fortunately no deaths have been reported, which is impressive in itself given the sheer magnitude of the strongest storm, but even more so due to the timing of the storms. While only approximately 27% of tornadoes occur between sunset and sunrise, these tornadoes occurring in the overnight hours are 2.5 times more likely to cause fatalities than those occurring in the daytime hours, according to a 2008 study (Ashley et al). After studying roughly 48,000 tornadoes in the United States from 1950 to 2005, Ashley found that roughly one in every 20 overnight tornadoes were killers, compared to roughly one in every 50 daytime deadly tornadoes.
An emergency management official from Dallas shared that the city “had a lot of advanced notice of severe storms coming through our area. As soon as we got a tornado warning from the National Weather Service, we activated our outdoor warning sirens at 9 p.m.” Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson recognized how fortunate they were, saying “Considering the path that the storm took, it went across a pretty densely populated part of our city, we should consider ourselves pretty fortunate that we didn’t lose any lives, no fatalities, and no serious injuries.” The storm left over 50,000 residents without power on Sunday night and 50 traffic lights had either lost power or were knocked down. First responders worked overnight to check on residents in a door-to-door search. At this time only three people have been hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries related to the storm. Six others also suffered noncritical injuries after an 18-wheeler overturned.
One of the stories we love that has come out of this situation is from Home Depot. As the manager became aware of the approaching weather, they got all customers out, sent home employees, and closer early. Thirty minutes later, the EF-3 tornado devastated the store.
To wrap up, we wanted tor remind you…a tornado WATCH means BE PREPARED. A tornado WARNING means TAKE ACTION. If there is a tornado watch pay extra close attention to the weather and be ready to act, because tornadoes are possible. If there is a tornado warning, find shelter immediately, and move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building, because a tornado is occurring or will shortly. Avoid windows and cover your head to protect yourself from flying debris. Acting early helps to save lives. Keep Wireless Emergency Alerts enabled on your cell phone so you will be alerted in the event you’re in the path of a tornado, and make a severe weather plan before you need it! To find out how to create a plan for you and your family, visit ready.gov/make-a-plan.