Texas's Tornado Alley
Texas has more tornadoes than any other state in the U.S., mainly because of its unique location in the middle of "Tornado Alley." The Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Rocky Mountains on the other provide an ideal environment for tornado formation. The warm, moist winds from the Gulf and the dry winds from over the Rockies collide to make conditions ripe for the perfect storm. No other region of the world has that combination of elements to form a center so tailor-made for tornado activity.
Tornadoes can hit Texas any time of year, even winter, but are most likely to occur in the spring. They can take place simultaneously with hurricanes and other storms. It's of utmost importance to be aware of weather forecasts for the area you're in or are traveling to, especially when environmental conditions are favorable to tornado formation.
Everyone knows what a twister looks like: that ominous funnel shape, the winds and debris whipping around it, the sky darkening, and the air becoming electric. Animals often notice the electricity in the air ahead of the storm, so pay heed to your pets. Also, keep your radio on to keep track of tornado updates. A tornado watch means the possibility of severe storm activity (including tornadoes) exists in a certain area, though the storm is not imminent; stay alert and be prepared in case conditions worsen. A tornado warning means that a tornado has actually been spotted; you should take immediate safety precautions and keep listening to the radio for further information.
Q: What if a tornado hits while you're on vacation?
A: If you're on vacation or simply traveling through Texas, you could find yourself in some pretty dangerous scenarios. The best situation would be if you're visiting friends or relatives in their home, and that home has a basement. If this is the case, get thee to the basement and under a heavy table or other piece of furniture for cover. A helmet helps; even a sleeping bag offers some protection. If a very heavy object is on the floor above (a piano or a refrigerator, for example), do not position yourself under it – the floor might break through, and you'll get crushed.
If you're in a building without a basement, go to an interior room on the lowest floor you can reach. Stay away from glass. If you find yourself in a shopping center, office building or similar structure, go to an interior enclosed room (except the elevator, which might lose power) or hallway away from windows. Don't panic; if you stay calm, you will help others stay calm too. Cover yourself with whatever you have on hand, such as a coat or anything padded.
If you're in a mobile home or stationary RV, pay close attention to tornado watches and warnings so that if a tornado approaches, you can get out and into a sturdy structure as quickly as possible. Anyone staying in a structure without a foundation is in real danger from tornadoes, since this sort of shelter is no match for a strong tornado. Have a plan ready and follow it without fail. If you're caught off-guard or are unable to get to a safe building, the next best thing is to leave the mobile home and lie flat in a ditch or ravine. Grab a blanket on your way out to cover yourself with.
Q: What if a tornado hits while you're on the road?
A: If you're driving and you hear a tornado watch announcement on the radio, get off the road immediately, out of the car and into a solid building until the watch is over. If you hear a tornado warning but you can't see the tornado, still get the car off the road and yourself into a building as soon as you can. If the tornado can be seen but it's far off, you may be able to get away by driving at right angles to it toward shelter, but don't press your luck.
If you're driving and are suddenly hit by debris borne by strong winds, get out of traffic lanes as quickly and safely as possible. Park the car. In this one case, you should stay in the car, unless you're next to a ditch or drop-off that you can safely get into; lie flat and cover yourself as best you can. Otherwise, remain in the car, keep your seat belt on, get under the windows, and cover yourself with anything you can lay your hands on – a blanket, a cushion, your coat, even your hands themselves.
Do not look for cover under bridges. This will only exacerbate traffic problems and won't stop debris from flying in.
Q: What if you're exploring the great outdoors on foot?
A: If you're walking through the Texas landscape, minding your own business, just taking it all in and – uh, oh – you feel those warning signs, or you might even see a twister in the distance. Now what? If you're lucky enough to spot a building close by, run to it lickety-split. If not, lie down flat, face-down on the lowest ground you can reach, and protect the back of your head with your arms or anything else you've got, such as a backpack.
Do not seek shelter under trees or near cars. They could possibly get picked up by the tornado and slam into you. Just get into your position, stay still and don't panic.
Keep calm and travel on
Don't be overly wary of traveling through Texas. Simply stay alert, keep track of weather forecasts, and if anything unforeseen happens, don't panic. Have a plan and follow it, and you should have a safe and happy trip.