Texas A&M Expert: Winter Tornadoes Usually Not Severe
The Houston area recently was hit by several tornadoes, and it’s proof that a tornado can happen year-round in Texas, said a Texas A&M University storm expert.
Christopher Nowotarski, associate professor of atmospheric sciences, said that six tornadoes hit Houston on Jan. 8-9, though such storms are relatively uncommon for Southeast Texas this time of year.
“Between 1951 and 2019, the records show that 222 tornadoes occurred in December in Texas, 196 occurred in January and 211 in February out of a total of 8,971 Texas tornadoes in that time period,” he said. “January is the rarest month for tornadoes in Texas, with just 2.2% of all tornadoes in Texas occurring in January. May is the most frequent month, with almost 31% of all tornadoes occurring during that month.”
Nowotarski added that in the Houston region, the tornado threat is more evenly distributed throughout the year, with a greater portion of tornadoes occurring in winter compared to other parts of the state.
The good news about tornadoes this time of year is that they tend to be weaker than in spring months, he said.
Of the six recent Houston-area tornadoes, Nowotarski said that three of them were classified as EF-1 and the other three at EF-0, meaning they had winds of no more than 110 miles per hour.
“Significant tornadoes – those of EF 2 or higher – can and do happen any time of the year in Texas, but violent tornadoes of EF-4 and higher, though rare any time of year, tend to occur less frequently during the winter months in Texas,” he said. “All of the tornadoes in the Houston area were relatively weak and had a short track length, and this is consistent with what’s typical for January tornadoes in Texas.”
He added that records show there have been only five EF-3 tornadoes in January in Texas, but there have been two EF-4 winter tornadoes – on Dec. 26, 2015 and Feb. 10, 2009, but both were in the North Texas area. An EF-4 has winds between 166 and 200 miles per hour.