Expert: Historic San Angelo Storm of 1995 Wasn't a Tornado
SAN ANGELO, TX — As summer begins, LIVE! takes a look back at one of San Angelo’s worst storms—the May 28, 1995 storm—and hopefully provides definitive answers to some questions that still linger, 23 years later.
A nationally recognized expert on all things weather and climate is Steve Lyons, who for 12 seasons was the hurricane and severe weather expert for The Weather Channel, and who is now the Chief Meteorologist in Charge at the National Weather Service (NWS) in San Angelo.
And having such an expert at my disposal, I had to ask for what might be the definitive explanation of what happened weather-wise here in San Angelo on that day.
In Lyons' own words:
“Back in May 1995, there were no forecasters here in San Angelo at the forecast office, only meteorological technicians. We did not have the WSR-88D radar at that time either, but instead the old "57 Radar" and yes "57" refers to technology of 1957. Dyess Air Force Base [in Abilene] had the Doppler radar at that time and it indicated a tornado 8 miles SW of Carlsbad and north of San Angelo....a tornado warning was issued for that storm.”
“There appears to be some controversy as to whether there was a tornado or straight line winds in this event. The big damage and expense clearly came from large hail. A total of seven people worked at our office back then with typically one person on shift at any time. However four additional people were called in to work that fateful Sunday, making a staff of five in the office at the time of the storm (five of seven total staff). A severe thunderstorm warning was issued around 3:47 p.m.”
“If strong wind causes damage most people "think" it is caused by a tornado whether they ever see a tornado or not...and it is very difficult to convince them there was no tornado...just strong straight line winds. Either can be just as damaging. The first Meteorologist in Charge at our San Angelo office did a storm damage survey and concluded there was no tornado only a large swath of strong and damaging straight line winds...along with a large swath of severe hail damage. An early bulletin was issued prior to the storm's arrival.”
“There was a severe thunderstorm warning issued for the storm, but NO tornado warning. I am not certain what the city policy was at that time on sounding sirens, or whether sirens were sounded for that storm or not. But that decision lies with the city and not with the National Weather Service. Today, the city will sound sirens for severe thunderstorm warnings if hail is large and/or winds (straight line) are strong...no tornado is necessary for them to go to siren/or phone call warning mode. “
“Later at 5:25 p.m. a tornado warning was issued for Tom Green County until 6:30 p.m....at 5:26 p.m. a tornado was reported at Rio Concho Village Apartments [east of downtown off Rio Concho Dr.]. Of course there is no certainty it was a 'tornado' but strong winds did produce a wide damage swath from strong winds and large hail.”
“In the end the official damage survey indicated strong straight line wind damage and large hail damage but no tornado was confirmed in that damage survey done by the then MIC of the forecast office. Debate will likely continue in the minds of local residents that experienced that storm...the strong winds (whether rotating or not) were very damaging and large hail was deafening and very damaging to the city.”