The United States experienced a record-breaking rash of tornadoes in May, with hundreds of twisters reported from coast to coast.
It was the third-highest month of reported tornado activity since 2000. Eyewitnesses reported more than 530 of the violent storms to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center in May alone. The only other months with more reports were in April 2011 and May 2003.
May also saw a historic tornado streak, with eight twisters each consecutive day from May 17-29, according to NOAA data. The last biggest streak occurred in 1980 with 11 consecutive days.
Between January 2011 and May 2019, 1,004 tornadoes were recorded in Texas by the NOAA. Five of those were recorded in Ellis County, all with unknown or low ratings on the EF scale, with the exception of the EF-2 tornado that blew through Red Oak, Glenn Heights and Ovilla on Dec. 26, 2015.
The Red Oak twister ripped through Donald T. Shields Elementary and several homes in the area. No deaths or serious injuries were reported.
In April 2012, a tornado near Oak Leaf formed with an unknown ranking. In April 2015, a tornado in Maypearl knocked down 100 trees, some as big as three feet in diameter and tore a roof off a building.
Video captured confirmed a tornado touched down four miles east of Waxahachie in May 2015.
On Oct. 13, 2018, Waxahachie High School surveillance video caught footage of an EF-0 form with maximum winds at 85 miles per hour. The tornado was active for about one to two minutes, traveled less than half-of-a-mile and was the first twister to touch down in Waxahachie since 2002.
Ultimately, the campus was in good shape with some blown out windows in the Indoor Activity Center, damaged rolling garage doors, along with four down parking lot light poles. The high winds also picked up and carried the iconic Spirit of Waxahachie Indian Band truck about 50 yards.
The box truck had been used for 15 years.
During the severe weather incident, approximately two-dozen WHS theater students were in the building practicing for an upcoming show. No students or staff members were hurt during the storm and no other WISD campuses sustained damage.
Ellis County Emergency Management Coordinator Samantha Pickett offed some modernized tips on how to ensure safety during tornadoes and how to prepare well in advance.
Pickett told the Daily Light that some tornado tips have become obsolete, such as bunkering down in the bathtub.
"They are much more flimsy now," Pickett explained.
"The new thing now is to find a room with all interior walls that aren't shared with the outside and then grab something sturdy such as pots and pans if you do not have a helmet or even grab your mattress to put over you to protect you from falling debris," Pickett elaborated.
A 72-hour kit is also ideal to have prepared in advance. Some items Pickett suggested to be included is food and water, first-aid kit, flashlight, portable weather radio that does not rely on electricity.
"Usually electricity is the first to go out during a tornado," Pickett noted.
She also suggested keeping photos stashed in the kit with a list of necessary medications with the doctor's information. The photo could also be utilized by first responders to search for a missing individual.
For more information on how to prepare for a tornado and what to include in the 72-hour kit, log onto ready.gov.
In general, tornadoes are rare. Between 1,500 and 2,000 are recorded globally each year, with 90 percent occurring in the United States.
Because of this, there isn't enough data to attribute the influx of storms to climate change or other causes, experts said, but they have worked to identify some patterns within the existing numbers.
For example, the United States now experiences fewer days of tornado activity than in previous years. But when those days come, they bring with them a greater number of the violent storms.
"We're having more outbreaks when they do occur," said Patrick Marsh, warning coordination meteorologist for NOAA's National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center.
Experts are also seeing a change in the locations of tornadoes.
"There is a spatial shift that's happening," Marsh said. "We're seeing a decrease in Southwest Oklahoma and Texas and an increase in Kentucky, western Tennessee and northeast Arkansas."
Though May traditionally experiences a large number of twisters, the frequency of this year's activity was much higher compared to tornado seasons of the past.
"There are four ingredients you need for tornadoes: moisture, instability, lift and wind shear," Marsh said. "We've had all four of these ingredients that we need for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes over the central United States."
In May 2018, eyewitnesses reported 166 tornadoes to the NOAA. The May before that, they reported 295.
The NOAA must confirm all reports before issuing the final count. Once it does, the difference between preliminary and confirmed counts can vary.
"A lot of it has to do with how the tornadoes occur," Marsh said. "Really long tornadoes are more likely to be counted multiple times. In the heat of the moment, we don't know if that's the same tornado or separate tornadoes."
Texas bore the brunt of last month's tornado activity with at least 107 reported twisters. Kansas and Oklahoma saw the next highest counts with 81 and 63, respectively, followed by Missouri, Ohio, Nebraska and Iowa.
All seven of those states are located in "Tornado Alley" — a region known for having a disproportionately high frequency of tornadoes.
Some of the storms have been fatal. Out of the 38 tornado-related deaths reported this year, seven occurred last month.
Three fatalities were reported in Barton County, Missouri and one in Adair County, Iowa as a result of tornadoes on the evening of May 22. Two were reported in El Reno, Oklahoma on May 25.
At least eight tornadoes barrelled through Ohio beginning late Memorial Day and continuing into Tuesday. One person was killed in Mercer County, Ohio.
The number of tornadoes is expected to decrease in June, which typically sees an average of 210 twisters, based on eight years of data. That's compared to May's average of 275.
Additional reporting by Ashley Ford/Daily Light. Beth Burger and Ben Deeter of the Columbus Dispatch contributed to this report.