April 3, 2012 Texas Tornadoes
My blog this week will provide some facts as well as personal observations regarding the tornadoes that impacted the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex area on Tuesday April 3, 2012. The fact that there were relatively few injuries, and no reports of fatalities so far is both miraculous and puzzling. The reason for the lack of injuries/fatalities will become clearer later in this blog.
One of the things that really stood out to me was the lack of strength of the majority of these tornadoes. Low-level rotation on radar was extremely weak on several of the storms while they were passing over the most densely populated areas, and the path length of the tornadoes confirmed that as well. 11 tornadoes (the count may increase to 15) developed during the early afternoon. Here are some details on the 3 most significant tornadoes:
The Lancaster, TX tornado was rated EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. It's peak winds were estimated at 130 mph with of path length of 7.1 miles, and width of 200 yards. This was the tornado that was responsible for the infamous video of the trailers being lofted into the air and tossed around like toys. You can view the video here: http://bit.ly/Hahm2x
The Kennedale/Arlington tornado occurred simultaneously with the Lancaster tornado, but was located farther west. This was a high-end EF2 tornado with peak winds estimated at 135 mph, 4.6 miles path length, and width of 150 yards. The strongest tornado occurred between 3:30 and 4 PM and began near Forney, Texas on the far east side of the metroplex. This tornado was rated EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale with 150 mph winds, a path length of 8 miles, and a width of 150 yards. This tornado tracked mostly over rural areas north and east of Forney, which helped limit the injuries and loss of life significantly.
To put this in perspective, let's take a look back at the May 24, 2011 tornado outbreak in Oklahoma. The 4 strongest tornadoes from that day were:
Canton/Longdale Tornado – EF3, 13-mile length, 880 yards (1/2 mile) wide.
El Reno/Piedmont/Guthrie – EF5 (210+ mph), 63-mile length, 1760 yards (1 mile) wide.
Chickasha/Blanchard/Newcastle – EF4 (190 mph), 33-mile length, 880 yards wide.
Washington/Goldsby – EF4 (190 mph), 23-mile length, 880 yards wide.
Now the puzzle of why yesterday's tornadoes didn't cause more injuries or any fatalities is partially solved. Clearly, the number of tornado related injuries and fatalities are directly proportional to the strength, path length, and path width of tornadoes combined with where they occur. The tornadoes in Texas on April 3, 2012 weren't even in the same league as the May 24, 2011 tornado outbreak, the Joplin tornado, or the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak in the southeast U.S. It's a good thing they weren't.
I was reminded that the DFW metroplex is a major disaster waiting to happen. Fortunately, yesterday wasn't it. Thankfully the National Weather Service in Fort Worth did an outstanding job of issuing accurate and timely warnings throughout the event. However, the DFW television market is not what we refer to in the broadcast business as a "weather" market. At least 2 of the television stations share one helicopter that provides video for both of them, and while the helicopter pilot did an outstanding job tracking the Lancaster tornado, there was no coverage of the Arlington tornado. Like it or not, competition makes for better coverage and the people are the ones who benefit. I am not aware of any of the stations having dedicated, veteran storm tracker teams that provide consistent and invaluable real-time reports. One of the stations never mentioned safety precautions once while the Lancaster tornado was in progress! Over 6.5 MILLION people live in the DFW metroplex, and frankly they deserve better. I still believe our coverage here in Oklahoma can improve, but our neighbors to the south would be well served to watch our system at work. A system that is second to none, largely because of our own Gary England.