Tornado season strikes early with high winds, hail and twisters

Tornado season arrived early in North Texas this year and many residents are growing increasing fearful of the possibility that a twister could strike in the Dallas area.  

Richland adviser and expert storm chaser Stephen Levine explained the reason for the early season.

“We here in the Dallas area have been running about five weeks early with our spring starting in late January. Now we are getting tornadoes and wild weather where it is almost unheard of,” said Levine.

With tornado season arriving sooner than usual it is important to be prepared. Levine offered some expert advice on how to stay safe during a tornado.

“The best thing to do is to find an interior closet or bathroom. Cover yourself with something to protect your head, like a helmet, and then have heavy cushions on top,” Levine said. 

At Richland there are Tornado Safer Zones labeled around campus to keep students safe.  In the event of a tornado, students are advised to remain calm, follow their professor’s directions and take cover in the nearest Safer Zone.

As a veteran storm chaser, Levine has had many adventures. 

“I ran a storm chase tour company for 10 years and on my last tour we were able to look up in the clouds and see rotating rain curtains,” Levine said. “I realized then that we did not really have a strong choice. We could either try to outrun the storm or go around it and run into hail the size of baseballs!  That was close,” he said. 

From knowing safety precautions to downloading apps like Radar Scope, Levine says staying informed is the key to safely riding out a Texas twister. “A good storm is like a hot romance; the hotter the better as long as it’s safe!”

According Richland Environmental Science professor Stephen Kallenberg, warmer weather earlier this winter had a lot to do with weather patterns this spring. 

“The Gulf of Mexico this winter did not get below 73 degrees, a record breaking high temperature for winter,” said Kallenberg. “Whenever the Gulf of Mexico is warmer, we tend to see a more frequent number of severe storms during the spring and now we are witnessing that.  Before we were saying, ‘that might happen.’ Now we are saying ‘It is happening.’”

Kallenberg said the increase in severe weather is happening on a global scale. “El Nino is the phenomenon of unusually warm water near the equator causing severe storms and flooding every five to seven years,” said Kallenberg.  

Scientists are already discovering that the occurrence of El Nino is becoming more frequent, and is now closer to three to five years.  It’s not just Texas that is experiencing bad weather.  This global weather pattern change impacts countries as far away as Australia.

Kallenberg said that because Dallas is inside Tornado Alley, it is important to stay aware of the local weather conditions and to be prepared for the worst.  The first step is to find a Tornado Safer Zone, like a bathroom or closet.  The next step would be to prepare a storm kit containing all of the items you will need in case of a weather emergency, including a battery-powered weather radio, a flashlight, water, blankets and a first-aid kit.   

In any emergency, he said, always remember that material objects are never more important than your own safety. Never put yourself at risk to retrieve an object that can be replaced such as a car or phone. Tornadoes, just like any display of power in nature, should be respected and treated with caution.