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Texas Tech wind researchers explain Kentucky tornado, unusual winter weather

Published: Dec. 16, 2021 at 10:10 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Clean-up is underway after a storm system that brought strong winds here yesterday and produced 100mph gusts in multiple states, along with severe weather and snow.

The Texas Tech Wind Institute is a world leader in researching these kinds of storms, and their impact on structures. Researchers say these recent storms are unprecedented.

Atmospheric Science Professor Christopher Weiss says tornado season is usually between April and June, not December.

“The Kentucky tornado is definitely an outlier. A path that long, even in the spring months, is somewhat unusual. But in the offseason, and these winter months, we don’t expect to see huge outbreaks like that,” Weiss said.

Usually tornados have a shorter path, up to a quarter mile. However, this series of tornadoes in Kentucky traveled across four states, about 250 miles, leading researchers to call this storm an “outbreak.”

Weiss said we are likely to see more severe weather pattern changes in the future.

“The suggestion is in the literature, that climate change may play some role in this, that we’re seeing a little bit of a decrease in tornado frequency in the spots that we expect, like in Tornado Alley here, and then increase out in other sections like the Tennessee Valley, that was hit last week,” Weiss said.

Wednesday’s storm system was also unusual, generating 110-mile-per-hour winds in Minnesota and fires in the Panhandle. Weiss said it’s uncommon for warm air to reach that far north.

“Minnesota had their first recorded December tornado ever yesterday. A good chunk of that area is on snowpack right now, so that’s just bizarre. So, very strange week for weather. This past week for sure,” Weiss said.

Weiss said climate change is concerning because areas outside tornado valley are not prepared to see more tornadoes

Although Lubbock has not had a catastrophic tornado, Weiss reminds folks to stay prepared, as we had a tornadic storm enter Wolfforth last May.

If a tornado enters our area, Weiss suggests staying low and away from windows.

“The threat zone of a tornado is really in the vertical. Things are blowing horizontally. So it’s the smallest you can make yourself in the vertical. The best for your safety,” Weiss said.

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