Rusty’s Weather Experience: Catching a Tornado Downtown

In our first installment of “Whatever the Weather” Rusty shares his surprise encounter with an F2 tornado.

This Is My Story

I’ve had two interesting encounters with severe weather. The first was in August 1996 when Mexico’s island of Cozumel was hit by a minor hurricane Dolly and 75 mph sustained winds. Watching palm trees being blown sideways for a day or two (and hoping our building was as storm-proof as the employees said it was) while being 1,000 miles from home is an experience I’ll never forget.

A couple of years later, I managed to do what most storm chasers would love to: park a vehicle directly in an F2 tornado’s path and see what the damage is.

Typical Spring Day

March 28, 2000 was a fairly typical day weather-wise for the Dallas area, with thunderstorms forming  just in time for the evening rush hour. As I headed home after work from downtown Fort Worth, warnings were issued for a strengthening storm 3 miles up the road. Knowing that baseball-sized hail could result in an expensive trip to the auto body repair shop, I decided to head back to the office downtown and let the storms pass north of the city.

Unless it’s one of those angry storms that rapidly intensifies and makes the dreaded “right turn” to the south…which is kind of a rare thing, right?

OK, That Forecast Changed Awfully Fast…

So, I found a parking spot across from my office building and went inside—only to be told that there was a tornado headed for us.

Minutes later, I could hear glass shattering outside, proving that the old axiom of “downtown areas don’t get hit by tornadoes” was apparently incorrect. I was inside our fortress-like 20-story concrete office building, so I wasn’t really that scared at the time. Afterwards though, I went outside to see a couple of blocks of downtown that looked like a war zone. Broken glass and debris covered the streets like snow 6 inches deep. Nearly every window was missing or damaged on an iconic 35-story office tower across the street.

Wow, that was close. 

Now Here’s the Really Crazy Part

Not surprisingly, my beloved pickup truck—parked about 20 feet from that very same building—was a bit of a mess too. Its shiny red paint was sandblasted by the fury of 120+ mph winds. A four-foot piece of wooden fence was jammed underneath it. The windshield was cracked in a few places and a tail light was missing, which I never found. Miraculously, the truck started up fine…but it was a chilly drive home since the rest of its windows had been sucked out too.

Late to Work…A Few Phone Calls to Make

The truck was eventually totaled by my auto insurance company, and I’d later learn that the tornado was rated as an F2 at its peak, with wind speeds of 113-157 mph.

I’m thankful I was OK, but in hindsight 19 years later I still really wish I’d gotten to see the actual twister in person.

Interesting Fact About Tornadoes

Many believe that, for whatever reason, tornadoes simply avoid downtown areas.

However, the central business districts of many big cities in the central and southern U.S. have been hit by tornadoes over the last 150 years or so, including: Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Houston, Fort Worth, Little Rock and many more. Downtown Nashville has been hit twice, and downtown St. Louis has been hit four times.

Why We Wrote This

Berkey® By NMCL values preparedness. Understanding the weather helps us make informed decisions, and sharing personal experiences motivates us.

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2020-05-13T17:05:08-05:00May 3rd, 2019|Education|

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