The year's first confirmed tornado formed yesterday (Jan. 9) in Texas as severe weather, including another reported twister and ping-pong-size hail, caused damage near Galveston, Houston and other cities in the southeastern portion of the state.
According to reports from the nation's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., two twisters were reported near Galveston. Storm survey teams are sifting through the damage today and are investigating other possible early tornadoes in the area.
Spring is prime time for Texas twisters, but they can strike before then.
"It's unusual but not unheard of," said Josh Lichter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Galveston office.
An EF-1 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita Tornado Damage Scale touched down in Fort Bend County, just west of Houston, shortly after 3 p.m. local time, the U.S. National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration confirmed. In nearby Galveston, which is next to the Gulf of Mexico, law enforcement said they saw another tornado touch down. Several other damage reports suggest more tornadoes struck.
The severe weather brought badly needed rain to Texas, which in 2011 suffered through its hottest and driest year on record. But the parched ground couldn't soak up the onslaught of moisture, and so the rain came with a cost. A mall was shut down as roads flooded, stranding drivers unaccustomed to severe weather this time of year. The reported tornadoes damaged the roof of the mall, damaged several homes and blew out car windows.
"Our main severe weather season is more like April and May," and it lasts until early fall, Lichter told OurAmazingPlanet. But with the right combination of conditions – moist, warm air from the Gulf mixed with strong wind shear – tornadoes can occur at any time.
The first hours of 2011 saw a deadly tornado outbreak that had begun New Year's Eve. The outbreak stretched from Indiana to Mississippi and included an EF-3 tornado that killed two people in Missouri.
2011 was a record-breaking year for tornadoes in the United States, with more than 1,600 twisters confirmed. Several outbreaks each caused at least $1 billion in damage. In late April, 343 tornadoes struck between Alabama and Virginia, the largest outbreak on record. April 27 set a single-day record when 199 tornadoes struck the Southeast.
A tornado rated EF-5 struck Joplin, Mo., in May, killing at least 141 people, making it the deadliest single tornado since modern U.S. tornado record-keeping began in 1950.