Tornado

Recent findings show a decrease in severe weather in Texas this year.

So far, the number of tornadoes and hurricanes occurring on Texas soil in 2018 have been well below average. Different factors contribute to the low number of severe weather events happening this year, according to regents professor of atmospheric sciences John Nielsen-Gammon. Since 2000, Nielsen-Gammon has served as Texas’ state climatologist.

“With tornadoes, the weather patterns weren’t favorable,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “We had various severe droughts within the Texas panhandle and parts of North Texas. That’s usually where that weather occurs.”

Though a similar lack of tornadoes has occurred before, Texas has seen fewer tornadoes this year than in any year on-record, said assistant professor of atmospheric sciences Christopher Nowotarski.

“If you look at 2017, last year we were slightly above average for tornadoes,” Nowotarski said. “[Over] the last five to 10 years, we’ve been a little bit below average for tornadoes.”

This trend of fewer tornadoes varies across other states. The Weather Channel reports that while states like Wyoming and North Dakota are exceeding their average tornado count, Texas is behind its yearly average by 90 tornadoes.

Hurricanes are not a yearly trend in Texas, but across the Atlantic, the number of hurricanes are reaching the average number this year.

“Nothing has hit Texas this year,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “That’s a good thing considering what happened last year [with Hurricane Harvey.]”

This year, the storms that do become major hurricanes are causing more damage, Nielsen-Gammon said.

“Heavy rainfall [from hurricanes] is increasing and also, because of sea level rise, hurricane storm surges are higher,” Nielsen-Gammon said. 

This was seen when Hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas in September. However, these strings of major storms happened later on in the hurricane season than usual, said associate professor of atmospheric sciences Robert Korty.

“During July and August, there was a large area of Saharan dust,” Korty said. “This makes it somewhat difficult for hurricanes to form. As that dissipated at the end of August, conditions switched very suddenly, becoming more favorable for hurricanes to form.” 

Korty said this explains the rapid growth of hurricanes forming over the Atlantic such as Hurricane Michael.

Since weather patterns can change dramatically over a short time, it is difficult to know if Texas will continue to see this decrease in severe weather. Hurricane season is still ongoing, ending in late November, and the main season for tornadoes starts in late spring. Nielsen-Gammon said it’s likely the numbers will be closer to average in the near future.

“Since this year is unusually low, it’s a fairly safe bet that next year we’ll see more,” Nielsen-Gammon said. 

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