Lubbock Concerned About Tornadoes, Lack of Warnings

By Joseph Marcades 

Spring brings more than warmer weather and blooming flowers to Lubbock. It can also cause tornadoes.

The U.S. is home to the most active region of tornado activity in the world, with over 1,000 tornadoes touching ground in the country each year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

24. Storm at Mason

Supercell thunderstorms are breeding ground for tornadoes.

The most active region in the country is known as “Tornado Alley.” This encompasses the south-central U.S., with Lubbock in the southwestern part of the alley.

Tim Pfeiffer, a meteorology graduate of Oklahoma University and a Lubbock native, said the region is referred to as “Tornado Alley” because of the sheer volume of tornadoes that comes through that area each year.

“They are so prevalent in Tornado Alley because of topography and the coming together of ingredients: moist air, lifting in the atmosphere, and vertical wind shear,” Pfeiffer said.

Chris Weiss, an associate professor of atmospheric science at Texas Tech, who has been involved in the severe storm field as either a student or a professional since the 1990s, said there have been significant strides in tornado prediction.

“I’ve seen this evolve quite a bit in terms of our ability to forecast,” Weiss said. “Right now, we’re pretty good at predicting when the supercell thunderstorms will happen.”

Lubbock is the biggest city in Tornado Alley without a public warning system, says AJ Bagwell.

Weiss said these supercell thunderstorms are the breeding grounds for tornadoes.

Tornado strength is measured on the F-scale or Fujita Tornado Damage Scale, developed by T. Theodore Fujita, which goes from F0, with winds of up to 73 mph, to F5, with winds of up to 318 mph, according to the NOAA.

One such tornado rocked Lubbock in May of 1970, according to the NOAA. The F5 tornado is the worst on record on the South Plains, killing 26 people and injuring 1,500 others.

Many people may not remember or know about the 1970 tornado, Weiss said, so continuing education is key to helping Lubbock be prepared.

Tornadoes’ death toll often reflects people’s nonchalance about warnings, Pfeiffer said. He said you must always take precautions when under threat of severe weather.

“Any tornado has the potential to kill someone, even an F0,” Pfeiffer said. “F5 tornadoes have the potential to be so strong that you will not survive unless you are below ground.”

Warnings, however, are difficult to heed if they don’t exist. Lubbock has no emergency sirens.  The issue has been discussed many times, Weiss said, but the city has decided not to make that investment.

Steve Holland, division chief for the Lubbock Fire Department, said the city formed a committee to decide whether emergency sirens were worth the cost.

“The committee felt that there were better alternatives to notifying citizens,” Holland said.

Weiss said he does believe sirens are beneficial for a lot of people, especially at night. And AJ Bagwell, the co-owner and lead chaser of 806 Storm Chasers, said that even though there are a few sirens in the vicinity of Texas Tech, Lubbock is the biggest city in Tornado Alley without a public warning system.

Bagwell’s team is concerned about Lubbock’s lack of preparation for an event such as the 1970 tornado. He said relying on technology to spread the word leaves at risk those who do not have access to technology.

“There are discussions on getting a siren system,” Bagwell said. “But, I fear that it may take another event or disaster that will actually force the issue.”

About JOUR 3312
%d bloggers like this: