EF-2 tornado went miles across Orange County last week
Last updated 1/31/2023 at 6:21pm
Orange County had two tornadoes, with one determined to be an EF-2 that traveled 25.6 miles from Orangefield northeastward through Little Cypress and into Niblett's Bluff in Louisiana.
The tornado caused two injuries and damaged numerous frame houses, RVs, and mobile homes. At times, it was 500 yards wide with peak winds of 120 mph, according to a survey from the National Weather Service in Lake Charles.
Meteorologist Doug Cramer with warning coordination out of Lake Charles updated the path of the tornado on January 31. He reported that a marine survey of damage along the Sabine River determined it was one tornado that crossed across Orange County into Louisiana instead of two separate tornadoes. It is now known as the Orange-Calcasieu Parish Tornado.
Michelle Tubbleville, director of Orange County Disaster Rebuild, which operates under the county's Office of Emergency Management, said the preliminary survey shows about 120 residents were affected on January 24. Of those, 28 to 30 were destroyed or had significant damage.
Orange County Judge John Gothia later declared a natural disaster for the county, one of the steps needed to get federal aid.
The tornadoes and large swath of thunderstorms knocked out electricity to a wide swath of the county, including almost all of the city of Orange. Schools were canceled for two days in the Orangefield, Bridge City, Little Cypress-Mauriceville, and West Orange-Cove districts because of the lack of power.
Many homes went more than two days or more without electricity as people huddled under blankets near fireplaces as the temperatures dropped into the 30s with the cold front behind the Tuesday storms.
The tornado outbreak came with a squall line of thunderstorms moving from the west. It was the second outbreak of tornadoes in 15 months. Orange County had two tornadoes on Tuesday, October 27, 2021, including an EF-2 and an EF-1.
The thunderstorms also produced a tornado around Taylor's Bayou off State Highway 73 in Jefferson County, plus two more into Louisiana.
Before 2021, previous strong tornado had been in November 1957 when one went through West Orange and crossed into Orange. It then went through what is now the Old Orange Historic District eastward to the former Riverside housing, and into Louisiana. That twister killed a woman, destroyed homes, and the Stark High field house. Weather historians now believe it was an EF-3 storm with winds of 136-165 mph.
Like in the outbreak in late 2021, the storm system last week brought an EF-1 tornado that started in the Bessie Heights Marsh along Bridge City. The National Weather Service reports the EF-1 on January 24 began at 4:23 p.m. and damaged trees and roofs from Nora Circle to Turner Road. The winds peaked at 100 mph with the maximum width at 75 yards. It traveled 2.28 miles.
The EF-2 tornado started a few minutes later at 4:28 p.m., touching down along Orangefield Road (FM 105) and traced north of Orangefield High School. It ended up going for 25.6 miles eastward into Louisiana.
That tornado hit a number of areas, including along Tulane Road, crossing northbound across Interstate 10. Bancroft Road and the nearby Hillbrook subdivision were affected. It continued north east, hitting the Allie Payne Road and nearby subdivisions, before crossing Highway 87 North and going into the Dawnwood area. It then went through that subdivision onto Echo Road and across the Sabine River into Louisiana.
Tubbleville said it is important for every property owner with any kind of damage from the tornadoes. People can register their damage and upload photographs of damage online through the Individual State of Texas Assessment Tool, or iSTAT. The information is used locally, by the state, and FEMA to determine what kind of assistance will be made available.
The Orange County Disaster Rebuild office is open to help people file their iSTAT information online. The office is at the Orange County Expo Center on FM 1442 and is open for assistance from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. The number is 409-745-9719.
Tubbleville said her office can help people with destroyed or severely damaged houses get gift cards, food, and other necessities, and even help find a safe place to live.
Orange County made the disaster rebuild department permanent after Hurricane Harvey flooded most of the county in 2017. The department helped coordinate outside and local volunteer efforts to help people with their needs after a disaster. The office helps victims get in touch with government, church, and charity groups for assistance.
The disaster rebuild office has continued through Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019, Hurricanes Laura and Delta in 2020, and the 2021 tornadoes.
Tubbleville said she plans to organize volunteers and relief groups soon for the latest tornado victims to learn how they can get help. However, she points out that people with insurance need to work through their policy providers before seeking other help. After that, the donated help can assist with repairs not completed after an insurance deductible is reached. The rebuild office can also help find furniture like a bed or other necessities.