Tornado Season in East Texas

Tornado Season in East Texas

Reading Time: 7 minutes


The Piney Woods of East Texas is where I call home. It’s a gorgeous place, a bunch of small towns and little cities spread out in a giant forest like in a fantasy novel. Various small ranches and farms dot the landscapes in the breaks in the trees. Small lakes, creeks, and rivers provide endless hours of fun and relaxation in the warmer months. Mild winters, vibrant and fragrant springs, toasty and wild summers, and beautiful harvest autumns make living here wonderful year-round. But it’s also a flood plain and part of Tornado Alley, so tornado season in East Texas isn’t always a peach.

“Tornado Alley” sounds scary, and it can be at times. It’s where all the tornados live, right? And a flood plain? All that wet can’t be good. Well, it’s great for my wannabe homestead. Not so great when the weather turns bad. Lucky for us, we have not just one tornado season but TWO in my part of Texas, with surprises sprinkled throughout the year.

Watch out for that twister!

It wouldn’t do you much good to prep if you have no idea what you’re looking for, would it? I know there are many apps, websites, and radio and tv stations dedicated to such things, but you’re not truly preparing if you don’t at least know the basics of tornado-spawning weather.

So, first things first: How a tornado is born. The easy, short, over-simplified version is that when warm air meets cold air, and the winds are moving in opposite directions and different speeds, whirlwinds happen and tornados form.

There’s also folklore, myths, and a few odd phenomena that come with tornados and the conditions before and during the storm. For example, some folks have seen the green sky phenomenon (if you haven’t seen this, I can assure you it’s very odd). But it’s absolutely best to familiarize yourself with how to spot tornados on radar (looking for a hook echo) and other scientific criteria.

Tornado Watch and Tornado Warning. What’s the difference?

A watch is when the conditions for a tornado are favorable but doesn’t exactly mean one will form, only that it’s possible. A warning means tornado on the ground (whether reported by witness or radar indicated).

How I explained the difference between tornado watch and tornado warning to my children was with pizza. Watch means it’s in the ordering phase: All the components are there, just waiting to be put together. Warning means that pizza (tornado) is on its delivery route and on its way.

How To Prep

Always have a plan or two, and make sure everyone in your house knows and practices them. These plans should include what everyone is doing before the alert is first sent out, when you know it’s going to storm. Does someone need to get the animals from the pasture that morning or the night before? Strap down the coop? Throw a mattress or board on a particular window? Or just haul themselves into the designated spot in the house or shelter?

There are many places online you can find tips for creating a preparedness plan from knowing well ahead of time to the warning that a tornado is on the ground. The plans you make should cover the before (battening down the hatches and/or preparing livestock), during (hunkering in the safe area), and after (what you’ll need to ride out any after-effects) of each storm. Include the safe zones in your house or outbuildings, meet-up spots for after, and what to have in the kit or “bug out bag” you’ll want in or near your safe area.

It’s important to note that when it comes to the swirling winds of potential disaster, the funnel of a tornado itself isn’t the largest danger. Lightning, flying debris, the winds themselves, flooding, and hail all pose significant danger. Your preparedness plan should account for these things as well.

The Nitty-Gritty of East Texas Tornados and Their Damage

We know weather can hit anywhere, anytime. And this is Tornado Alley, so we are of a particular mind to be on the lookout for tornados in early spring and late fall, when the temperatures and winds are shifting from one extreme to another. Because of this, we have some special things we have to lookout for and work around, unlike some of our neighbors in other places.


I know by now you’re asking, “Well, why not just go into the shelter?”

It’s, unfortunately, not quite that simple for many of us. We can’t really build in-ground shelters here. Why? Well, that’s a lot of wet ground and flooding! It just isn’t feasible in the building, maintenance, and financials for most folks.

Building underground in a flood plain isn’t easy, or cheap. First, after you actually get through the red tape in your county and get the go-ahead to build a new underground structure (which, if you get through it, super impressive and congratulations!), you’re going to need a sump pump. Hopefully only one. Living on a flood plain means that your sump pump is going to run you anywhere from $200 to over $1600. After that, it gets complicated. More so than this article can cover.

But what about above-ground shelters? Much more doable! There’s an art to building a tornado- and flood-proof shelter above ground, and FEMA has guidelines that must be followed, as well as following your local guidelines. But, it’s to keep you and yours safe, so at the least, it’s worth looking into.

There are also many shelters in stores and other public spaces around the towns here, so if you’re out and about and suddenly a tornado shows up, it pays to know where the nearest public shelter is.

So. Many. Trees.

An upside to living in the forests of East Texas? The forest, of course! All these wonderful trees to provide shade, food, entertainment, fuel, and so much more. They also provide lots of damage in high winds. Knowing that at any moment in tornados or other heavy storms a tree is going to decide to live in your kitchen is slightly nerve-wracking.

A typical road between the towns of East Texas. I wasn’t kidding about the trees.

The best thing you can do here is to mitigate damage beforehand. That means being a responsible land steward and removing dead or dangerous trees and branches promptly. I know it’s not always immediately doable, especially if you don’t have the equipment to do it yourself and have to hire someone (I wish you much luck in finding someone that can handle it for a reasonable price!). But shelling out that extra cash or extra day’s work could be the difference in your home staying in one piece and that beautiful oak dropping a branch through your roof and watching TV with you.

Seriously, the flooding.

Here, flash flooding can (and often does) accompany tornado weather. For example, a couple years ago, in the early morning hours of the first day of school, we had a tornado pop through the county. It caused severe flooding and actually took out two of three of the routes in and out of our town. Be prepared for washed-out roads and being stuck where you are.

A small spring shower often creates a small river of the creek that runs near my house. And the heavy rains we get with storms? Let’s just say that come tornado season, that creek likes to visit with its neighbor creek about a mile down the road and turns the pasture between them into a swamp. The cows that like to use that pasture get cranky about it.

Flood danger and damage is often underrated, but it’s nothing to snub your nose at. In a flash flood, there’s significant danger of you, your vehicle, pets and livestock, or even your house, buildings, and trees getting swept away. If you’re lucky, there will be little or no damage to your property (we do have specific build requirements such as structures have to be a certain height off the ground and so forth). Knowing facts about floods well beforehand can help you out in the long run, saving you, your family, livestock, and your home.

Going out of your way to avoid flood damages really isn’t going out of your way. It’s preparing for something that’s highly likely to happen and keeping you and yours safe. Small things like grading your property into a small slope in places that drain water away from buildings is a good place to start.

Go a step further and create a little creek bed (just a small trench and line it with river rock to help prevent erosion) for that water to run to and off your property (just be sure not to point it where it can cause damage to someone else’s property). One thing we have no shortage of here in East Texas are large drainage ditches. Getting water to run to these is the easiest way to drain off excess and help avoid flood damage.

Bonus Round: Power Outages

I know this one is particularly common anywhere tornados are frequent, and I’d love to say it doesn’t happen often, but I’d be lying. Trees, winds, and even an escaped cow or three have caused outages in my neighborhood. And it’s the same across my county.

Pair lines downed by huge trees with flooding just after a tornado and you’ve got a recipe for TROUBLE. Always take extra caution if you see a line down and report outages to your company immediately. Know your outage plan and be prepared for it to take a while for repairs, especially if there are more pressing matters than a simple blown transformer.

Downed trees and powerlines due to a tornado.

If you’re lucky during a power outage, it won’t be summer. East Texas is considered subtropical, and summers are no joke with peak humidity about 70% and temperatures ranging from high 90s to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Please remember to include ways to keep cool if you don’t have power (whether due to a tornado or not) in your preparing. Here’s a guide to choosing the right generator for your home.

It Happens

Being prepared and knowing the risks, dangers, and options available to you are the biggest hurdles come tornado season(s), even if you aren’t in Texas. Know your area, know how to spot potential tornado weather, and take action sooner than later to mitigate all the damage you can while keeping people safe.

An avid gamer, word nerd, herbalist, and DIYer, Karmin Garrison lives on a one-acre wannabe homestead in East Texas. When not magicking up words or chasing after kids, she can be found wandering the woods, building something new, fishing, beading and sewing, convincing her plants to grow, or with her nose in a book. Sometimes she sleeps.

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