Seventeen confirmed tornadoes touched town near Dallas, TX, on April 3rd. Aside from the scenes of destruction, the most memorable moment from this event was watching the shocking video of big rig trailers being tossed in the air like toys as one twister moved through a trucking terminal. Most people will never forget seeing those orange box trailers being effortlessly lifted and thrown hundreds of feet. Amazing. No doubt, everyone knew this tornado and the others to strike the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex were serious. Despite the damage and the amazing scenes, no one was killed. How is this possible when this series of twisters affected such highly populated areas? Here are some observations:
1. The storms hit during the day when many were at work and school and not at home. This likely saved lives as the tornadoes ripped through subdivisions.
2. The storms had lots of warning. While the number of tornadoes were a surprise to forecasters, once they the storms started rotating, warnings were issued. People had time to get to their place of safety.
3. This region is accustomed to severe weather and many take the threat seriously and have tornado plans and/or shelters.
4. The tornadoes were clearly visible on television from news helicopters. After the April 27th outbreak in Alabama last year, it was determined that many people do not take action immediately after warnings but wait instead for “secondary confirmation” that threatening weather is imminent (This mentality is getting people hurt or killed). However, on April 3rd, people got that confirmation from watching television and took action. There was no question the tornadoes were coming.
5. The tornadoes struck in broad daylight. Even if area residents didn’t see the tornadoes on t.v., they could clearly see them approaching.
6. As amazing as the scenes of destruction were, all of the tornadoes were ranked EF-3 (with 150 mph winds) or weaker. The storms were strong enough to cause millions in damage and easily loft those big rig trailers but most buildings that took a direct hit suffered partial collapse at best. These tornadoes were survivable because many of the structures had large sections that remained standing. These were not the monster EF-4s and EF-5s from Alabama or Joplin last year that decimated entire towns.
All-in-all, the Dallas area has a tremendous amount of rebuilding to do and there is no reason to downplay the amount of damage and heartbreak this tornado outbreak caused. Here are lessons to take away from the Dallas event:
1. Most tornadoes in this country are survivable if you are in the right place in your home as the vast majority of these storms are ranked EF-3 or weaker.
2. We have better warnings than ever before in the history of man – take them seriously!
3. During severe weather days, keep your eyes to the sky – it can save you life – especially in daytime events like Dallas where the tornadoes are highly visible.
4. Putting tornadoes live on television saves lives. While I encourage people to not wait for “secondary confirmation” before they take action, putting live video of a tornado on television causes people to take a warning more seriously.
5. Many survived because they took the right action and they had a plan. They already knew where they would take shelter before the warnings were ever issued. Everyone living in tornado-prone areas should do the same.
April and May are the traditionally the two biggest tornado months of the year. Keep your guard up!