CENTRAL TEXAS (KXAN) — Scientists at the National Weather Service are looking through the damage to figure out the scope of Monday’s tornadoes that ripped through Central Texas.
Tornadoes are deciphered using an Enhanced Fujita scale (EF Scale). The EF Scale was developed based on damage intensity which can range from an EF-0 to an EF-5.
EF-3 damage would include destruction to roofs and some walls torn from well-constructed houses; trains overturned; most trees in forested areas uprooted; heavy cars lifted and thrown.
These are similar sights seen throughout Round Rock, about 20 miles outside Austin, on Tuesday as the NWS surveyed the area.
“A lot of this is very common of what we would consider tornadic damage,” said Paul Yura, NWS Warning Coordination meteorologist. “Most times when we come out, we’re trying to find out is it a straight-line wind, a microburst or a tornado.”
In this case, street cameras and people captured the tornadoes as they touched the ground in Central Texas.
Since Yura already knows the destruction did come from a tornado, he’s left with documenting its path from the ground and figuring out how strong the winds were.
“What we saw yesterday afternoon was not common for this region,” said Yura.
Texas is no stranger to tornadoes, but climatologists say an expanded human footprint is making them significantly worse. As storm chasing has become increasingly popular, scientists have been able to learn more about tornadoes now, too.
“There’s that component. The human-built environment. We’re growing up shopping in malls and expanding the urban corridor,” said Victor Gensini, Professor of Meteorology at Northern Illinois University.
Gensini studies the path of tornadoes at Northern Illinois University. He says there’s evidence that shows a shift in where tornadoes are happening.
“You’re seeing a lot more in Nashville and Tupelo, [Mississippi],” said Gensini.
In other words, there’s a shift from “tornado alley” into the southeastern part of the U.S. Gensini also says population growth will most likely contribute to more disasters.
“Over the last 15 years, it’s really more and more bullseyes on the dartboard,” said Gensini. “We continue to have these events. The scale to which they’re happening, at the local scale, doesn’t spark interest from national stakeholders to make changes. The biggest changes that are made are at the local level when it comes to building code, practices and how we prepare for and mitigate these tornado disasters.”
Researchers are still trying to figure out how climate change plays a role in small-scale disasters. At Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, Jana Houser believes tornadoes correlate with the hydrologic cycle, and drought in the South Central Plains could be a factor in the shift.
“If we’re drying up the soil, we’re drying up the low-levels of the area. We’re less likely to see the atmosphere having the ability to generate those storms in comparison to a more moisture-rich area,” said Houser.
One of the worst tornado outbreaks on record occurred during December 2021 across the Midwest, Ohio Valley and Tennessee Valley, according to the NWS.
Across Middle Tennessee, a total of 16 tornadoes were determined to have touched down as of Dec. 28 – three EF-2 tornadoes, six EF-1 tornadoes, and seven EF-0 tornadoes – making this the fifth largest tornado outbreak on record in Middle Tennessee.
These tornadoes injured eight people across Middle Tennessee and caused millions of dollars in property and tree damage in many counties. These tornadoes, combined with the five tornadoes that occurred just a few days earlier across Middle Tennessee on Dec. 6, set a new record for the number of tornadoes during the month of December.