Tornado season is here
Every time spring rolls around, my Instagram feed fills up with photos that show the bare winter roots hidden beneath the evergreen leaves and pastel-colored blooms. In my mind, it’s a reminder that tornado season is here. Unlike hurricanes, tornadoes are fairly unpredictable and develop on a whim.
I’ve been living in the DFW area of Texas my whole life and I’ve witnessed some pretty gnarly storms. I grew up with tornado drills being synonymous to fire drills at my school. There are years where tornado season skips over us because we’re at the tail end of tornado alley, but there are other years where the cyclones are fruitful. In the past two weeks alone we’ve had 7 tornados pop up, it’s part of the reason why I haven’t been able to write on Medium as much as normal due to the unpredictable nature of these storms.
Stage 1: Storm development
The way tornados form is pretty simple: when warm air has a dalliance with the cold air. In March, the sun warms up the ground which creates the pleasant heat the locals welcome with open arms. When a cold front from the North pushes through, it poses a threat for a tornado.
Most times, the cold air mixed with the warm air produces a thunderous storm. However if the warm air can rise through the cold air, this creates an updraft. Depending on how strong the updraft is, they’ll either form a harmless breeze or shift into strong tufts of wind to which a tornado forms.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked through downtown Dallas and I’ve seen leaves rotating in a circle on the sidewalk. It’s always a fun Snapchat to send to my family overseas because of how cool the leaves look when they spin around in cadence to the wind. This is something I’ve witnessed my whole life each time the seasons change and it doesn’t scare me.
Most times, the circular winds are innocuous. If the sky is sunny or light gray, these winds are powerless but if the sky is a deep gray, almost a green-like hue, then you know a tornado is beginning to form somewhere in the area.
Stage two: Storm Organization
At this point, the rain is piling on and the bruise-colored sky erupts with flashes of bright white lighting. The rain in Seattle or London is nothing compared to the rain that floods through Dallas. My friends and I joke about how it’s rarely ever just peaceful rain in the metroplex.
If the winds are starting to rotate due to an updraft, a Tornado Watch is issued in the area. This means that the signs are showing a potential threat of tornado development. If the city you’re in is signaled under a Tornado Watch, you have to be aware that at a moment’s notice you need to find shelter depending on how the storm plays out.
Honestly, this part isn’t scary either. Every time a Tornado Watch is issued, my Snapchat comes alive with stories of what my friends are up to. Some people walk their dogs while others are outside on their porch to see if they can point out a funnel cloud in the works.
When I worked retail and a Tornado Watch would be issued, I’d hear the collective ring of the warning come up on customers’ phones and they would all promptly ignore it as they continued to shop. It’s the same way when people are out eating at restaurants during a storm. Even a few years ago when I was on the train on my way home from work, a Tornado Watch was issued and I gambled the risk to stop and grab some Popeyes before heading home.
The majority of the time, these watches turn into a Thunderstorm Warning or a Flash Flood watch which are easier to drive through. Since we’re already out, what’s the point in going home immediately over something that hasn’t happened yet.
Stage 3: Tornado formation
A tornado forms depending on how strong the winds rotate. The stronger the winds, the likelihood of a tornado forming increases. At first, the top of the tornado is formed and once the spiral touches the ground, a tornado warning is issued for the area. The rain is heavy, the hail is crashing down against your windows and cars, and the sirens ring loudly to signify that a tornado is in your area. If your area is under a Tornado Watch and it is relatively calm, don’t be fooled. It’s the epitome of the calm before the storm.
Meteorologists start telling you to take cover in a ground-level area of your house with no windows. People tend to flock to their laundry rooms, bathrooms, or closets. If you’re out in public, you’re led to the basement of the building and if you’re driving, you’re instructed to pull over.
In my experience, it’s much easier when you’re at home when this happens because you’re only dealing with your roommates/family members. If it happened while I was at school, we’d all be in the hallways on our knees, facing the walls with our heads covered. We had to wait until the storm passed which meant sometimes we’d be stuck for an extra hour in school depending on what time the tornado touched down in our area (I had this happen to me twice, once in middle school and the other time in college).
I remember when I worked at Forever 21, a Tornado Watch was in full swing and we had to evacuate everyone from our store into a tiny basement at the end of the mall. It was filled to the brim with people and I remember several women shouting prayers during the 15 minutes we were stuck.
Needless to say, over the last 6 years, I’ve lucked out already being at home when a tornado touches down in my area. We’ve had several in the last few weeks which means several nights I lost not being able to write on here or read your stories due to the power outages.
Stage 4: Tornado Dissipation
This is when the tornado loses its power. The cold air comes in for the save by wrapping around the vortex which causes it to lose power. The spiral begins to unravel and turns into heavy gusts of wind instead. At this point, people leave their shelter and go outside to assess the damage.
In my life, I’ve thankful to have never dealt with any sort of tornado damage. Our house has always withstood the strong tufts of wind, the hail has never cracked our windows, and our roof has been steady with no leaks coming into our home. I hope to continue this trend for as long as I live in Texas.
Ultimately, there’s no control over mother nature. Tornados are always a reminder that life has seasons where it spins uncontrollably while spitting lighting and hail across the way. Like every storm, it’ll eventually pass and you’ll have a newfound drive to be more daring. After all, you can never predict when a tornado will hit.