The April 3, 2012 Dallas/Fort Worth Tornado Outbreak Compared to Past Events

An outflow boundary is seen dropping into north Texas ahead of a line of storms. Supercells formed south of Dallas and Ft Worth, ultimately interacting with this boundary, causing multiple tornadoes across the area.

As seen in the map posted yesterday, if it’s April, north Texas sure looks like a hot spot for tornado activity. The April 3, 2012 Dallas/Ft Worth outbreak occurred only one calendar day removed from the metro’s deadliest tornado (an F3) that happened on April 2, 1957 in Dallas.

The April 2, 1957 event was part of a multi-day outbreak, and on the day of the Dallas tornadoes there was a larger active region than seen April 3, 2012. Not the best match.

But, how does the localized north Texas tornado outbreak stack up against other days with multiple tornadoes in the area?

When it comes to tornado outbreaks near Dallas and Ft Worth since 1950, there have been about 20 that have produced 5 or more tornadoes in the following counties:

Tarrant, Wise, Denton, Johnson, Ellis, Dallas, Collin, Kaufman, Rockwall, Parker, Hunt, Hopkins.

The strongest rotation tracks from radar are seen across the Metroplex. Image by SPC's Greg Carbin.

These counties include the classic D/FW metro, plus those in NWS FWD’s area which saw tornado reports (as recorded by the Storm Prediction Center) on April 3, 2012. I’ve left out Titus and Franklin county further to the northeast where tornadoes were also reported, as they fall under Shreveport jurisdiction and are outside the Dallas region.

Raising the bar from 5 to 10 tornadoes in a day, we quickly start to run out of dates. Only four days have seen 10 or more tornadoes in the specified counties.

Since 1950, the most prolific tornado day in the immediate area was December 14, 1971, with 15 tornadoes in the counties noted. That outbreak continued to produce tornadoes to the northeast, as far as northern Arkansas and southern Missouri.

Behind that, April 19, 1995 saw 12 touchdowns in the region and April 16, 2002 did as well. In the 1995 event, nearly 40 tornadoes were reported from west Texas to Arkansas. The 2002 event was much more localized with all but two tornadoes in southern Oklahoma occurring in the D/FW metro.

Tornado reports in north Texas on April 3, 2012. Map by Katie Wheatley.

The next event on the list, that of May 5, 1976, dropped an F3 in northwest Dallas as well as a weaker F0 in northeast Ft Worth. Most of the other twisters were centered to the southwest, with an F4 to the southeast of Cleburne and the only deadly tornado of the day being an F3 near Temple.

Fortunately, it seems there may be no fatalities from this event and in the DF/W metro they are pretty rare from tornadoes.

As noted, the April 2, 1957 tornado that cut through Dallas is the deadliest in the local metro area. The highest tolls of recent came on April 25, 1994 when an F4 passed near Lancaster to the southeast of Dallas, and on the 9th of May in 2006 when an F3 struck Collin County.

Tornadoes in north Texas on May 24, 2011. The main body of the outbreak was to the north. Image: Tornado History Project.

Just last year, on May 24, about a half-dozen generally weak tornadoes hit the area during the large outbreak mainly to the north in Oklahoma that day. In the D/FW metro, the tornadoes mainly touched down in the northwest. There was also one in Irving, and one in southeast Dallas as well as one east of Kaufman. The counties in this analysis saw 17 tornadoes in total last year, with the strongest an F2 southwest of Denton.

When it came to tornado intensity of the sample, 0.7 percent were F4/EF-4, and 5 percent were F3/EF-3+. 26 percent were ranked as significant or F2/EF-2+ tornadoes.

All said, if the 18 reports on the SPC web site (16 in FWD’s aera) are even cut in half, the April 3, 2012 localized outbreak in the Dallas/Ft Worth metro will end up pretty high on the list in the modern historical record for the area.

See also:
Full set of severe warnings from NWS Ft Worth and NWS Shreveport
NWS Fort Worth Facebook page updates on tornadoes

Get updates on U.S. Tornadoes on Twitter and Facebook.

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Defense and foreign policy researcher at a D.C. think tank. Information lead for the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang.