Texas storm season predicted to strike earlier

Autumn Owens aowens@empiretribune.com
Stephenville is no stranger to severe weather. An EF-1 tornado struck two years ago damaging many facilities in the county including the Lillian 1 Apartments (pictured).

As Texas jumps into storm season, WeatherBug meteorologist Mark Ellinwood is predicting a higher probability for storms and tornadoes this month and lower for the month of May.

“April has the potential for higher than normal tornado activity, but whatever gains that might occur in April could get wiped out by a quieter than normal May,” Ellinwood wrote on the U.S. Tornadoes website.

Erath County is no stranger to dangerous weather.

In 2016, an EF-1 tornado accompanied by straight-line winds tore through Stephenville causing widespread damage across the area.

“What triggers the opening of our emergency operations center is a severe thunderstorm warning in combination with a tornado watch or a tornado warning by itself,” Stephenville Police Chief Jason King told the E-T.

When the center is activated, dispatch begins calling the city's department heads, Erath County emergency management coordinator, the sheriff’s office, Tarleton State University and the hospital.

The SPD utilizes a high-quality 360 degree video camera that can view most of the city and decisions will be made on whether to open shelters if weather becomes severe.

Shelters include the Stephenville Public Library, Stephenville High School, Henderson Junior High, Gilbert Intermediate and Wisdom Gym, Thompson Student Center and Dick Smith Library on the Tarleton State University campus.

Last year TSU was officially deemed a “storm ready university” by the National Weather Service and Stephenville ISD has a precise emergency plan that is practiced throughout the school year.

If a tornado has been confirmed within 10 miles of the city, outdoor warning sirens are activated.

“Everybody expects those things to be their ultimate warning and if they’re in their house, (the sirens) are not designed for those people to hear them,” Stephenville Fire Chief Jimmy Chew said in 2017. “They’re designed for you to hear them outside, so the best thing is to either watch television, sign up for Nixle or Code Red or get a weather radio.”

And if you are inside a structure that has been damaged by a storm or tornado, exit the building as quickly as possible once the severe weather has subsided.

Tips to prepare for storm season:

Keep a to-go bag ready at all times.

Know where the nearest shelters are and make sure your kids know where they are located.

Have flashlights and extra batteries and an emergency hand-crank radio.

Keep cell phone charged when severe weather is approaching.

Know how to safely shut off your electric service, gas line and water.

Practice a family evacuation plan that includes your pets.

Erath County Humane Society Executive Director Diane McCoy is gearing up for storm season saying she will need supplies once storms strike.

“When we get rain, even one inch, we’re under water so once the storms come and go we will have to replenish straw, shavings and will need bleach for cleaning,” McCoy said. “Also having foster’s lined up would be great. We get more dogs after storms because they’re left outside and scared. So putting them in a laundry room, or having them microchipped or having tags on them would be good so we can ID them if they come here.”

The Erath County burn ban has been lifted since the beginning of March after 7.90 inches of rain fell in February, according to local rain watcher Dean Jones. March received a total of 2.80 inches for a grand total of 10.80 so far.

As of April 1, Erath County was placed in the Texas A&M Forest Service’s “low” fire danger category and the zero-200 category (lowest) of the Keetch-Byram Drought Index scale.