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Texas Tornado Facts

Definition: Tornado -- 1. A violently rotating column of air, in contact with the ground, either pendant from a cumuliform cloud or underneath a cumuliform cloud, and often (but not always) visible as a funnel cloud.

Compared with other States, Texas ranks number 1 for frequency of Tornadoes, 1 for number of deaths, 1 for injuries and 1 for cost of damages. Based on data from 1950 - 1995. Between 1950 and 1995 the state had 7,554 injuries involving tornadoes. This ranks the state number 1 among the States for injury.

Tornados are rated by severity and wind speed using the Fujita scale of F0-F5:

F0 F0 damage photo F-0(42 - 72mph) - Light Damage - Chimneys are damaged, tree branches are broken, shallow-rooted trees are toppled. Here are broken tree branches and only superficial house damage; so this scene was rated F0.
F1 F1 damage photo F-1: (73 - 112mph) - Moderate Damage - Roof surfaces are peeled off, windows are broken, some tree trunks are snapped, unanchored manufactured homes are over-turned, attached garages may be destroyed. This house experienced partial roof removal, only on the windward (near) side; therefore, this damage site was rated F1.
F2 F2 damage photo F-2: (113 - 157 mph) - Considerable Damage - Roof structures are damaged, manufactured homes are destroyed, debris becomes airborne (missiles are generated), large trees are snapped or uprooted. Quality of construction must be considered when rating damage; since the F scale is best applied to well-built homes. Here, the wall-to-roof and wall-to-wall attachments were very weak or nonexistent; so this is only marginal F2 damage.
F3 F3 damage photo F-3: (158 - 206 mph) - Severe Damage - Roofs and some walls are torn from structures, some small buildings are destroyed, non-reinforced masonry buildings are destroyed, most trees in forest are uprooted. For a well-built home, any removal of inner walls constitutes F3 damage; so this site was rated high-end F3.
F4 F4 damage photo F-4: (207 - 260mph) - Devastating Damage Well-constructed houses are destroyed, some structures are lifted from foundations and blown some distance, cars are blown some distance, large debris becomes airborne.
F5 F5 damage photo F-5: (261 - 318mph) - Incredible Damage - Strong frame houses are lifted from foundations, reinforced concrete structures are damaged, automobile-sized debris be-comes airborne, trees are completely debarked.

The primary tornado season in Texas is from March through June, but tornados can occur in any month of the year.

Tornados often form in the southwest part of thunderstorms - next to the part of the storm where heavy rain or hail is falling.

Opening windows will NOT equalize pressure and prevent an explosion of the house if hit by a tornado.

Tornados are not the only weather killers in Texas: Lightning, tornados and high winds take an average of 15 lives each year in Texas alone. 51 people died as a direct result of tornados in the US in 2003.

The latest 4 large killer tornados in Texas:

  • May 27, 1997: A twister hits Jarrell in Central Texas, killing 30. Two other deaths from other storms are confirmed in nearby Travis County.
  • May 22, 1987: A tornado hits the small West Texas town of Saragosa during a kindergarten graduation ceremony, flattening the community center and church, killing 30 people and injuring more than 100.
  • April 10, 1979: Forty-two people are killed and more than 1,700 injured by a tornado in Wichita Falls. More than 3,000 homes are destroyed and 20,000 people left homeless.
  • May 11, 1953: A tornado hits Waco, killing 114 people and injuring 597. An estimated 150 homes and 185 other buildings are destroyed.

The word tornado comes from two Spanish words: tronado meaning thunderstorm and tornar meaning to turn.

On the average, a tornado's path is 4 miles long and 400 yards wide but can be as long as 100 miles long and a mile wide

The average tornado travels at a speed of 25-40 miles per hour, but tornadoes have been known to reach speeds up to 70 mph. Winds inside a tornado can swirl at close to 300 mph. They stay on the ground for an average of 4-5 minutes, but they can touch down several times.

Most tornados:

  • move from southwest to northeast
  • rotate in a counterclockwise direction in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere
  • occur between 3 and 7 P.M.
  • are reported to occur most often in the United States

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