Severe storms thrash North Texas but pull punches in Austin metro area


Highlights

The National Weather Service issued several tornado warnings across the state Wednesday — but not in Austin.

Forecasters say wind speeds in Rockwall reached between 90 and 95 mph in at least one isolated gust.

Austin-area rainfall totals reached highs of about 1.5 inches, with higher amounts falling to the east.

After days of forecasts calling for damaging winds of up to 60 mph, large hail and even the possibility of tornadoes, Austin seems to have gotten off relatively easy compared with other parts of Texas that were hit by a line of storms Wednesday morning.

Lower Colorado River Authority rain gauges across Travis County tallied rain totals ranging from a little under an inch to just over 1.5 inches through the entire event. To the east, in Bastrop County, gauges recorded totals of more than 2.5 inches.

The storm system that swept across Texas, stretched out in a long line from the Mexico border all the way across Oklahoma, petered out a little before rolling into Austin, sparing the city from significant damage seen elsewhere in the state, National Weather Service meteorologist Monte Oaks said.

The only storm-related deaths reported Wednesday in Texas occurred when three storm chasers, including two who worked for the Weather Channel, were killed in a collision of their two vehicles near the town of Spur, about 55 miles southeast of Lubbock. Kelley Williamson, Randy Yarnall and Corbin Lee Jaeger had been responding to reports of possible tornadoes in the area.

Wind speeds in the Hill Country were clocked at more than 60 mph, Oaks said, but once the system arrived in Austin, winds had dropped to about 30 to 45 mph.

A few scattered reports of some shingles being stripped from homes in the Hill Country rolled in through the morning, but most of the damage reported was minor, Oaks said.

Hundreds of area residents also were left without power for several hours in the morning.

It was a different case in North Texas, where storms arrived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area around 11 p.m., and severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings followed, weather service meteorologist Bianca Villanueva said.

Authorities received numerous reports of wind gusts of 60 mph or higher, Villanueva said. One gust in Tarrant County was estimated at 83 mph, and others in Frisco and Cameron hit between 70 and 75 mph.

At least three homes in Rockwall, northeast of Dallas, were significantly damaged or outright destroyed by winds that meteorologists said reached close to 100 mph. Rockwall Mayor Jim Pruitt said one person was injured.

As surveyors began assessing the area, authorities blamed gusts of 90 to 95 mph. They hadn’t found any evidence of a tornado as of 3 p.m., but authorities hadn’t ruled one out.

Weather service damage surveyors have also been dispatched to northern Tarrant and southern Denton counties, along with several other locations to inspect damage and confirm whether any tornadoes had touched down.

So far, most of the damage in North Texas has been chalked up to thunderstorm winds.

Much of the Metroplex saw about an inch of rain, while harder hit areas recorded about 1.5 inches, Villanueva said.

The weather service confirmed that at least one tornado touched down in Uvalde County, about halfway between San Antonio and Del Rio.

Meteorologist Nikki Hathaway said the storms lost some steam as they approached Houston late Wednesday morning, but were still strong enough to prompt the weather service to issue a tornado warning for the area near the Galleria shopping complex from around 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., along with a flood advisory that expired shortly after noon.

Widespread wind speeds in the area were recorded at 30 to 40 mph with stronger gusts.

Hathaway said the weather service received reports of nickel-sized hail, frequent lightning, downed trees and some damage to carports in the area as the system moved through more quickly than anticipated.

She said authorities will send survey crews out into Harris County to determine whether any tornadoes sprung up in that area.

While forecasters are calling for sunny skies across Texas over the next couple of days, more storms are expected to hit the region over the weekend. The outlook calls for a 50 to 70 percent chance of rain for Saturday and Sunday. But Oaks said it is still too early to tell how similar the approaching system might be to Wednesday’s storms.

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