An employee with Texas Storm Chasers presented information at the Weatherford Rotary Club meeting Tuesday afternoon discussing the importance of never letting your guard down when it comes to Texas weather.
“I knew this was a really important issue for all of us to understand all the weather we have,” Rotary Club President Joe Wilkinson said. “It was a very informative presentation on chasing tornadoes and all types of other weather and myths about those storms.”
Texas Storm Chasers photographer and chaser Chelsea Burnett discusses safety tips, statistics and myths about lightning, tornadoes, hail and flash flooding.
“The vast majority of lightning victims were going to a safe place but waited too long before they sought shelter. I think we get into this ‘that will never happen to me’ mindset a lot of times. Lightning fatalities are most common in the afternoons and evenings, why? Because we’re out on the lake, we’re outside, we’re fishing, we’re out having fun,” Burnett said. “If you have no place to go when a storm comes, what you want to do is crouch down low like you’re a catcher and the tricky part is you have to do it on your tiptoes with your heels together — they have to touch — and that’s important because if you’re hit by lightning the lightning will most likely travel through your feet, out one foot and then the other. It will not travel throughout your entire body if your heels are touching, so this will help minimize the impact if you’re ever struck by lightning.”
Burnett went over some myths about lightning — if it’s raining, then there’s no danger of lightning; rubber soles or shoes and tires will protect you from being struck; and touching someone that has been struck by lightning will electrocute you.
Burnett said Texas storms typically move from southwest to northeast and went over the Fujita scale, safety tips and myths.
“The most common types of tornadoes are EF0s to EF1s and these are tornadoes with winds of about 110 miles per hour. These are on the ground maybe five to eight minutes max, they’re very short-lived. These are about 80 percent of all tornadoes that happen on an annual basis,” Burnett said. “Then you have your stronger tornadoes, which can be EF2s and EF3s. Wind speeds in these can be 111 to 165 miles per hour. These last a little longer, they’re on the ground about 20 to 30 minutes and these are about 11 percent of tornadoes that happen on an annual basis, so they account for more deaths for obvious reasons.”
Burnett then went over EF4 and EF5 tornadoes, which are the worst carrying wind speeds of more than 166 miles per hour.
“They’re on the ground for over 90 minutes and these are less than 1 percent of tornadoes that actually occur, but of course they make up 70 percent of tornado deaths,” Burnett said.
Burnett said Parker County had one EF4 tornado on April 25, 1990, and has seen 50 EF0s to EF1s and 17 EF2s to EF3s, for a total of 68 since 1950.
Burnett said it’s important to remember that tornadoes don’t just happen in the spring, though it is the peak season with fall coming in as a secondary peak season. On Dec. 26, 2015, an EF4 tornado went through the Rowlett, Garland and Sunnyvale areas, east of Dallas.
“The tornado that went through Rowlett ended up being an EF4 and it was at night the day after Christmas. People are in town during the holiday and of course we didn’t even think this could happen,” Burnett said. “The tornado tracked from the southwest to the northeast and went through where two major highways come together — George Bush and I-30 — and unfortunately there were 10 fatalities and all of those were from on the road that night. This just illustrates that we should never let our guard down even if it’s not the peak time of year for storms, they can happen any time and any place.”
Tornado myths include: Tornadoes can’t cross a body of water; tornadoes don’t hit big cities; tornadoes don’t hit an area more than once; mountains and hills protect an area from tornadoes; tornadoes don’t occur in winter; and tornadoes are attracted to mobile home parks.
Burnett said all 50 states have seen at least one tornado at some point and said it’s important to remember safety procedures.
“You want to put as many walls between you and the outside as possible, so find a center part of your house or building that you’re in with no windows. You want to have an emergency kit, a change of clothes for your family and any important medications,” Burnett said. “The most important thing you want to have are helmets. What’s going to happen is if your house is torn to shreds, then debris that’s flying and falling, your heads need to be protected.”
Burnett said the public should never take shelter under an overpass.
“You’re exposed to higher wind speeds with no protection,” Burnett said. “Then you have wind with flying debris that becomes channeled through there. Your parked car could also block traffic and put others at risk.”
Burnett said the most common type of hail is “pocket change” hail, so anything smaller than one inch.
“About 30 days per year you will get pocket change, so your pennies, your quarters, your nickels, so no more than an inch in diameter. About 20 days per year we get a little bit larger hail, which is golf ball sized,” Burnett said. “And then maybe five days per year you’ll get your baseball size hail. Baseball size hail can weigh a pound and a half and have a velocity of 100 miles per hour when it’s falling through the sky. A pizza delivery driver in Fort Worth was killed about 20 years ago because he got hit in the head. And maybe once a year we’ll get the larger softball size hail.”
Burnett said Texas has the most flood-related fatalities and said from 2010 to 2018 there were 212 deaths from people driving through flood waters.
“We live in an area where flash flooding is most common. Flash flooding is what happens in less than six hours whereas regular flooding can take a couple of days to build up,” Burnett said. “As of May, we’ve had nine [deaths] and are still ranked the highest. It only takes about six inches of fast-moving water to knock us off our feet, about 12 inches to carry away most of our cars and 18 inches to carry away buses and RVs.”
For more information about Texas Storm Chasers visit texasstormchasers.com.