Weather experts urge SE Texans to stay ready for unpredictable storms

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Hurricanes, flooding, and a once-in-a-lifetime winter storm.

Storms of a historic nature are seemingly now a part of life in southeast Texas.

"What we're discovering is how unpredictable the weather is these days," said Dr. Stephen Klineberg, founding director of Rice University's Kinder Institute of Urban Studies. "Many of these events that occur once in a lifetime are occurring every five or six years."

Thursday night, in observation of Earth Day, ABC13's Travis Herzog and David Tillman invited three experts to explore the impacts of extreme weather on the Texas Gulf Coast.

The conversation couldn't happen a moment too soon because the time to prepare for extreme weather is right now, said NWS Houston warning coordination meteorologist Dan Reilly.

"We can get severe weather any month of the year, but there definitely is a peak... when it comes to tornadoes, very large hail and high thunderstorm winds," Reilly said. "Definitely April, May, into early June."

Early forecasts from Colorado State University predict an above average hurricane season, with 17 named storms and eight hurricanes.

Reilly said the average number of hurricanes has risen as a possible result of climate change, from 10 named storms annually in the 1960s to around 14 per year today.

"We've had a lot of Gulf storms in recent years," Reilly said. "The Gulf has been very active, so I think it remains to be seen if that will change as well this season, or we'll have more storms in the Gulf again."

A year ago Thursday, residents across San Jacinto County were left to pick up the pieces after an EF3 tornado touched down near Onalaska, killing three, injuring 33 and destroying 235 homes.

Reaching winds up to 140 mph at times, the tornado was on the ground for more than 30 miles, defying anything Tillman said he's ever seen as a weather forecaster.

"There's all these deadly tornadoes hitting the southeast one year after another, and not getting the attention it deserves," said Texas state climatologist Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon.

While much attention is paid to the region between north Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas known as "Tornado Alley," Herzog and Nielsen-Gammon both highlighted the fact there are multiple tornado allies in the U.S.

Less known, however, is that two of those alleys meet right in the Lone Star State.

"I suppose you can call it 'Tornado Corner,'" Nielsen-Gammon said, explaining the state can experience a secondary tornado season just as hurricane season ends. "We've got to worry about the fall."

But just how likely is a tornado coming through Houston? An EF4 tornado tore through Channelview in 1992, reaching winds of close to 200 mph. It was the strongest tornado to ever strike southeast Texas.

In analyzing the Onalaska disaster, Reilly said a storm track just 50 miles south could have brought last year's deadly tornado through the Greater Houston area.

"There's no reason it couldn't have tracked through Harris County," Reilly said. "A lot of people think, 'Oh, we get floods and hurricanes in Houston, but not tornadoes.' And the point is we can get them, and we need to prepare for these extreme events."

Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1, but the time to prepare is now. Learn how to build your hurricane preparedness kit and stay weather aware with ABC13's apps.

Watch a recap of the event, live newscasts and in-depth reporting from ABC13 on your favorite streaming devices, like Roku, FireTV, AppleTV and Google TV. Just search "ABC13 Houston."

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