Texas Outbreak Shows It Only Takes One

By Samantha-Rae Tuthill, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
May 17, 2013; 12:26 PM ET
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Three devastating tornadoes tore through northeastern Texas on the evening of May 15, 2013. The death toll sits at six with dozens of others injured. Some people are still missing. The AccuWeather damage team's preliminary assessment, as well as the initial assessment from the National Weather Service, is categorizing the Granbury tornado as an EF-4 and the Cleburne tornado as an EF-3 after surveying the damages on May 16. Some buildings have been completely wiped away.

A tornado that hit Ennis was confirmed by the NWS to be rated an EF-1, with a path that stretched 6 miles.

After a relatively quiet tornado season, meteorologists see this event as a sobering reminder that people should never let their guards down when it comes to severe storms.

"The number of storms so far is irrelevant when considering outbreaks," said AccuWeather.com Senior Expert Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski. "Tornado chances will run high through July, and they can occur at any time of the year. It's the actual storms developing that are important. People shouldn't fixate on a number, the number doesn't change the impact when they do happen."

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Kottlowski explained that this outbreak was especially difficult because they formed in the evening into the night, a rarer time for tornado outbreaks to occur. People may not be as alert or prepared for a tornado to strike so late in the day. The large size (one tornado was reportedly a mile wide) also made it more difficult for people to get out of harm's way.

Damage surveyed during search-and-rescue efforts in Granbury, Texas, on May 15. Photos by Chance Craven

"These large tornadoes are the worst scenario for a community," Kottlowski said, citing similar instances of such devastating storms that hit Joplin and Greensburg.

Kottlowski believes it was possible for the largest tornado to have actually been a "maxi tornado," when a large family of tornadoes forms in the same large circulation, containing multiple vertices.

He emphasized the importance of acting immediately when a tornado warning is issued. Waiting too long could leave too little time to get out of harm's way. As soon as a tornado siren is heard or a warning is issued, people need to take cover and not wait to see how imminent the threat will be to their exact location.

Radar image of the large tornado as it ravaged areas south of Bono, Texas, at 10:02 p.m.

AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Henry Margusity said that it is critical for people to have an emergency plan in place that can be acted on as soon as it is needed.

"Unless you're sheltered, you don't really have a chance to survive an EF-4 tornado," he said. "People need to know where to go to prevent fatalities."

The storm system that devastated the area will continue to move into Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana on Thursday, but it will be much weaker. The weather behind the system in Texas will be clear and stable for at least the next few days, with the possibility of more strong storms moving in on Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights. The clear days ahead will help in initial cleanup efforts, but Kottlowski says it will be weeks before the area starts to return to a sense of normalcy.

"It will be months before they really see 'normal,'" he said. "For some people, after an event like that, they may never really feel normal again."

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