Early Saturday morning on May 18th, 2019 Ballinger, Rowena, Coleman and other towns across Runnels and Coleman counties got a taste of just how severe spring weather can be. In all 6 tornadoes touched down across the area on that Saturday morning. The two tornadoes that hit Ballinger and Coleman were each an EF-3, with winds in the 135_164 mph range. The Ballinger tornado was on the ground for 19 miles and did millions of dollars in damage. One person was sucked from their home and landed in a field and another person had their home collapse around them. Miraculously, neither person suffered any severe injuries and there were no deaths due to the tornado.
May is severe weather month and that means it’s time to brush up on your plans in the event that the weather gets nasty. Tornadoes and flash floods are part of every spring across the nation and the National Weather Service (NWS) kicked off the month with a series of articles and guidelines on their social media. Hector Guerrero, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Angelo, sat down to talk about the weather in our area. Guerrero was asked if the tornadoes from a year ago gave the NWS any surprises, “They just reminded us strong tornadoes can occur in the most stable part of the day, which is the morning. And a tornadic environment that is more common to the gulf coast states can occur in West Texas, too. Also, I'm so grateful no one was killed that morning or seriously injured. It was a miracle, indeed.”
Guerrero said it isn’t unusual for multiple tornadoes to spring up during the same storm, “Multiple tornadoes popping up depends on the storm environment. When the atmosphere is unstable, highly sheared cyclic Supercells can form. Highly sheared means winds increase and change direction with height. Last May 18, the atmosphere was definitely unstable and highly sheared. These cyclic tornadic Supercells can produce multiple tornadoes. One of the Supercells that spawned the Lowake to Ballinger Tornado, spawned four tornadoes.”
According to the NWS, the main cause of fatalities during tornadoes is flying debris, “Most of the fatalities are due to the debris flying around in the winds. That is why you have to take every tornado warning seriously and then you want to get down low and cover up in that windowless, most interior room (bathroom or hallway) on the lowest floor. Or get into your storm shelter if you have one.”
There is sometimes confusion in understanding the difference between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning and Guerrero clarified the difference, “Tornado Watch means conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes. It's time to get ready and make plans. Tornado Warning means that a tornado has been sighted on radar or by trained spotters and now it's time to take cover.“
In this age of technology and highly advanced radars, one of the most essential assets the NWS has are their Skywarn weather observers on the ground, “Storm spotters play a significant role as they provide ground-truth reports of what's happening on the ground. Because or radar limitations, reports from storm spotters from Ballinger supplement radar data and help the NWS save lives. The NWS is indebted to all of our Skywarn storm spotters. Many of them come from all walks of life that includes the Ballinger Volunteer Fire Department, Runnels County Sheriff's Office and Ballinger PD. We can't do our job without them.”
The information from the May 18, 2019 tornadoes shines a light on the overall picture of the storms that struck west central Texas that day. Tornadoes are rated on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale: EF0...Weak......65 to 85 mph; EF1…Weak…...86 to 110 mph; EF2...Strong....111 to 135 mph; EF3...Strong....136 to 165 mph; EF4...Violent...166 to 200 mph; EF5...Violent...>200 mph
All of the tornadoes struck within a 5.5-hour period, beginning in the early morning hours.
Northern Schleicher County had a tornado strike at 2:50 a.m. CDT. It was an EF-2 tornado that was on the ground for 2.2 miles and was estimated at 250 yard wide. One person was injured.
Dove Creek was struck by an EF-2 tornado at 4:57 a.m. The tornado was on the ground for 18 miles, from Dove Creek to San Angelo. There were no injuries reported. The tornado was one mile in width.
At 5:56 a.m. an EF-1 tornado struck Abilene and traveled to Jones County. The tornado was 550 yards wide and on the ground for 9 miles. No injuries were reported.
At 6:52 a.m. an EF-3 tornado formed 4 miles northeast of Mereta and traveled 19 miles. The tornado was 1 mile wide. The twister ended 1.9 miles northwest of Ballinger at 7:31 a.m. The tornado destroyed the Ballinger high school baseball field, severely damaged the high school stadium and track and severely damaged the water standpipe located adjacent to the baseball field. Olfen ISD principal Lizette Paceley was captured the twister on her camera phone.
An hour later, at 7:52 a.m., an EF-3 tornado formed in eastern Runnels County. The tornado was on the ground for almost 6 miles and was at least 1 mile wide. The tornado formed 4 miles northeast of Benoit and ended 2 miles southeast of Crews at 8:02 a.m.
At 8:20 a.m. an EF-2 tornado formed 10 miles northwest of Coleman. The vortex was on the ground for 8.2 miles and was 300 yards wide. It ended at 8:43 a.m., 12 miles northwest of Coleman.
Guerrero says that you should take cover immediately and call 911 if you spot a tornado. After calling 911, you can also call the NWS at 325-944-9445 to report it.