Tornado season and safety

KPRC2 Exact Track Radar yesterday morning

Here’s a personal story: when working for KTRK (ABC) back in the day, I was offered a two week stint to fill in for Spencer Christian on “Good Morning, America.” This was in November 1992, which is a ratings month, and station’s around the country would not let their chief meteorologists off to fill in -- but I was the weekend guy! I jumped at the chance, and after two weeks, I was scheduled to fly home Saturday afternoon to be back in time for my evening newscasts.

As it happened, two weeks in a hotel is a long time (even though it was a fabulous hotel) and I re-scheduled the flight for that Friday afternoon after my final show. Had I not, my airplane would likely never have gotten into IAH because of a huge tornado outbreak that Saturday, November 21, 1992:

courtesy NWS Houston (Lance Wood)

But, lucky for my premonition, I was on duty and on TV! I’ll never forget breaking into the Texas versus Baylor football game (Baylor won by a point) to warn of six tornadoes that broke out across the area between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. They ranged in strength from F1 to F4 -- 75 mph to more than 250 mph. If this happened today, we’d be on air wall-to-wall, but TV coverage was different then! We depended on crawls at the bottom of the screen (that we had to type in ourselves) and we’d interrupt popular programming for quick warnings!

Winds higher than 200 mph damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes across the area, especially Channelview:

courtesy NWS HGX (Lance Wood)
Courtesy NOAA

You can read a great summary of the tornado outbreak from Stormtrack.org right here. By sheer miracle, no one died and there were few injuries. I reported from the aftermath in Channelview and one thing I recall clearly is that people went to their central hallways in the middle of their homes and when those houses literally blew apart, the hallways fell inward to more or less create a teepee, or triangle, saving their lives.

This week we were fully reminded of the tornado danger across Southeast Texas. Just look at the outbreak Monday night and Tuesday morning:

Six tornadoes with winds from 86 to 130mph

Here are some simple safety rules:

Stay away from windows and outside walls!

Don’t bother raising windows to relieve pressure -- that’s an old tale and the fact is that if a tornado wants your house, an open window will not do anything to stop it. Protect yourself -- inside rooms like hallways, bathrooms, closets, under stairwells away from windows. Put that bike helmet to good use! Our sister station KSAT’s meteorologist put together this list on Monday morning:

  • Identify a safe location in your home, away from windows, and bring the entire family to that space. This includes pets. Avoid outside walls if possible and choose a room on the lower level if you have a multi-story home.
  • Avoid seeking shelter near heavy objects that could fall on top of you.
  • Wear shoes and a bike helmet if you have one available.
  • Crouch as low to the ground as possible, face down and use your arms to protect your neck and head.
  • If you live in a mobile home, seek shelter elsewhere if possible. Many mobile home parks have storm shelters for residents.
  • If you find yourself in your vehicle - do NOT try to outrun the tornado. Find a nearby building and avoid all bridges and underpasses.
  • If you’re unable to find shelter and are outside, find a flat, low location and lay down facing the ground.

None of us is trying to preach, but while TV weather warnings and weather coverage has changed dramatically since 1992, tornadoes have not changed. They are still as damaging and deadly as ever.

Frank

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About the Authors:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.