If you live somewhere with a lot of green, you might assume as a consequence you live somewhere without much danger. The phrase “green and pleasant land”, after all, remains one of the most enduring stereotypes of Britain. But this is far from the truth in many places – including Austin. After all, tornadoes are rather fond of trees and greenery, especially when that greenery leaves ample moisture for the twisters to feed on. But are there tornadoes in Austin? And if so, how frequent are they? This article will answer that question, as well as many others concerning them. Read on for more information about tornadoes in Austin.
Does Austin Get Tornadoes? What Are The Odds?
The first thing that you need to know about tornadoes is that it is not the weather that causes them, but rather the rotation of air masses. Tornadoes are a result of wind shear and dynamic instability which makes them not only unpredictable but also extremely dangerous. In fact, they are the most dangerous weather phenomena in the world.
What Is a Tornado?
A tornado happens when a rotating column of air touches the ground. The vortex of wind can last anywhere between a few seconds to an hour and can travel up to 70 miles per hour. Tornadoes can also cause damage, such as broken trees and ripped-off roofs. Tornadoes are categorized as “weak”, “significant”, “serious” or “violent”. The strength of a tornado is determined by the speed of the wind and the width of the damage it causes. The tornado season usually starts in mid-March and ends in early June. This is when the jet stream, which normally flows from west to east, temporarily changes its course. This allows warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico to move northward into the United States.
How Often Do Tornadoes Hit Austin?
- “Strong” Tornadoes: These are the most common type of tornadoes. They are usually narrow and only a few miles wide. Strong tornadoes may cause damage to trees and other vegetation, but rarely cause major damage to buildings.
- “Significant” Tornadoes: These tornadoes are considered strong by the National Weather Service (NWS), but they cause more severe damage than a strong tornado. A significant tornado can destroy homes, buildings, and even bridges. The NWS will only classify a tornado as significant if it has wind speeds greater than 100 mph or has caused any damage such as injuries or deaths.
- “Severe” Tornadoes: Severe tornadoes are stronger than the previous two types of tornadoes and can create significant damage to buildings, cars, and even trees and other vegetation in their path of destruction. These types of tornadoes can be deadly as well as destructive, causing injuries, fatalities, and property losses.
- “Violent” Tornadoes: Violent tornadoes are the most dangerous type of tornadoes. They can cause extensive damage to homes, businesses, and other buildings. They can cause injuries, fatalities, and even loss of life. A violent tornado may be classified as a strong or severe tornado if it causes any damage or has a wind speed above 160 mph.
- “Fatal” Tornadoes: These tornadoes can be either violent or significant tornadoes, but they are very rare. They are the ones that kill everyone in the path of their destruction and cause devastation beyond imagination. Most people who die in a fatal tornado have no chance to escape because they are caught in the storm’s path before they have time to react to its sudden appearance on the horizon. The NWS will only classify a tornado as fatal if it causes any fatalities, has wind speeds greater than 200 mph and has caused severe damage such as injuries, deaths, or major structural damage.
- “Extreme” Tornadoes: These tornadoes are the rarest type of tornado. They are intense and violent, causing extensive damage to homes, businesses, and other buildings. They can cause injuries, fatalities, and maybe even loss of life. The NWS will only classify a tornado as extreme if it causes any fatalities, has wind speeds greater than 250 mph, or has caused catastrophic damage such as injuries, deaths, or major structural damage.
- “Rare” Tornadoes: These tornadoes are very rare in the U.S., but they do sometimes happen. This is because severe weather can occur anywhere in the country at any time of the year if conditions are right for it to occur there (such as warm temperatures, high humidity, low barometric pressure, and clear skies). The NWS will only classify a tornado as rare if it causes any fatalities, has wind speeds greater than 300 mph, or has caused major structural damage such as injuries, deaths, or major structural damage.
- “Frequent” Tornadoes: These tornadoes are not as rare as the previous two types, but they still happen very rarely in the U.S. They cause extensive damage to homes, businesses, and other buildings. They can cause injuries, fatalities, and maybe even loss of life. The NWS will only classify a tornado as frequent if it causes any fatalities, has wind speeds greater than 350 mph, or has caused major structural damage such as injuries, deaths, or major structural damage.
Where Are Tornados Most Common in Austin?
1. Central Texas
Large and small tornadoes occur across the central part of the state, especially in the eastern part of Travis County. The greatest tornado risk is found in the counties of Bastrop and Travis, although there are other locations that have a lower risk. Tornadoes are more likely to occur in spring and early summer, especially when wind shear conditions are present.
2. West Texas
The western part of Texas has a higher risk for tornadoes than other areas because it is located on the path of warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico which causes strong thunderstorms that can develop into tornadoes. Tornados often occur near El Paso, San Angelo, Abilene, and San Antonio. Average annual tornado occurrence may be as high as 10 per year but this varies greatly depending on location. The average number of tornados per year is 4-5 but this can go up to 15-20 per year in some areas like Midland or Odessa.
3. North Texas
Tornadoes are more common in North Texas because of the large amount of land that is not protected by the Great Plains. Tornadoes can occur any time during the year but they are most likely to occur during spring and summer when there is a lack of cold fronts. Tornadoes usually occur north of Dallas, which has a higher number of them compared to other areas. Tornadoes typically form near Lubbock, Fort Worth, and Waco, but there are other locations that have a lower risk like Wichita Falls, Texarkana, or Tyler.
4. South Central Texas
Tornados can touch down anywhere in south central Texas because it is surrounded by very flat land that makes it easier for these violent storms to form and travel across. Tornadoes often cross from one side of the state to another but they also move from east to west at times too. Tornados in South Central Texas usually form over eastern parts of the state like Fayetteville, Winnsboro, and Tyler. Tornadoes in this area have been known to travel from Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas.
5. East Texas
Tornadoes can occur in any part of East Texas but the highest risk is located in the counties of Rusk, Upshur, and Hardeman. Tornadoes can also occur in other counties too like Robertson, Gregg, Henderson, and Upshur. Tornados are most likely to form near the Gulf coast or near the borders with Louisiana and Mississippi but they can also form anywhere within the state of Texas from north to south.
6. North Central Texas
Tornadoes are more common in North Central Texas because there is a higher risk for them to form south of Dallas because of high-pressure systems that create areas where warm air rises. There are a few places where tornados have been reported in North Central Texas such as Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland, and Odessa but they are rare occurrences compared to other areas.
Austin is no stranger to tornadoes, and they can happen at any point in the year. It’s important to keep an eye out for signs of an upcoming storm and to know how to respond if a tornado is imminent. With that knowledge and a little bit of luck, you should be able to weather the storm with ease.