Harris County Leads Texas in Number of Tornadoes

June 19, 2008

Harris County has had almost twice as many tornadoes reported than any other county in the state according to a recent survey conducted by the Insurance Council of Texas (ICT).

Despite its location south of what is referred to as tornado alley, Harris County and other counties along the Texas coast have been more susceptible to tornadoes than other areas of the state.

ICT undertook the survey to see if there was a pattern showing tornadic activity in the state.

“We thought that the majority of tornados would have fallen in some kind of line between Lubbock and Dallas which covers tornado alley,” said Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas. “But, four of the top five counties reporting the most tornadoes are all located along the Texas coast. Hurricanes and tropical storms spawning tornadoes have had an affect, but not as large as you would expect.”

The tornado survey was prepared using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that began recording the sightings of confirmed tornadoes in 1950. Texas leads all other states in numbers of tornadoes each year with an average of 137.

Harris County has recorded 210 tornadoes in the past 58 years. In a distant second was Hale County located just north of Lubbock with 118. The next three counties reporting the most tornadoes were Texas coastal counties. Galveston County has had 108 confirmed tornadoes, Jefferson County has had 99 and Nueces County has had 93.

Hurricanes were responsible for spawning 17 tornadoes in Harris County during this period of time. Hurricane Alicia in 1983 was responsible for 12 of those storms. Seven hurricanes produced only 14 of the 108 tornadoes reported next door in Galveston County.

National Weather Service spokesman Walt Zaleski said the high number of tornadoes in Harris County may be attributed more to the number of people living in the area along with the sheer size of the county.

“It takes teamwork to report and confirm tornadoes,” said Zaleski. “The public is a part of this reporting network that helps us confirm tornadoes and Harris County has more eyes in the sky to spot these significant weather events.”

Zaleski also said there is much more thunderstorm activity along the southeastern coast line of Texas than you will find in other parts of the state.

“Harris County will average up to 65 thunderstorm days each year compared to the panhandle’s 40 to 45 days of thunderstorm activity,” Zaleski said. “The higher thunderstorm frequency may also contribute to a greater number of reported tornadoes, many of them smaller, but still potent.”

Texas leads all other states in the number of tornadoes because of its location and size. Kansas leads all states in the number of F-4 and F-5 tornadoes. 2008 is setting a pace to recording the highest number of tornadoes for one year.

Every Texas county has reported at least two tornadoes over the past half century. The majority of counties reporting less than 10 tornadoes are located in far west and southwest Texas.

The top ten counties reporting the most tornadoes are:

Harris County — 210
Hale County — 119
Galveston County — 108
Jefferson County — 99
Nueces County — 93
Lubbock County — 83
Dallas County — 82
Lamb County — 82
Tarrant County — 80
Johnson County — 79

Three Texas counties report only two tornadoes since 1950. They are:

Jim Hogg County — 2
Real County — 2
Menard County — 2

ICT’s survey includes an interactive map of Texas that can be located at http://www.insurancecouncil.org/facts/tornadoesbycounty.pdf. By clicking on a particular county, information is available on every tornado reported since 1950 including its time, date, wind speed, damage, location, extent of injuries and/or deaths.

*Note: The NOAA list of tornadoes for Harris County totals 211, but a tornado on April 15, 1994 was counted twice. Thus, this report lists Harris County with 210 tornadoes.

Source: ICT, www.insurancecouncil.org

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