A line of severe storms produced what a meteorologist calls a rare combination of multiple tornadoes, hurricane-force winds and softball-sized hail in west Texas, killing at least four people, injuring nine and causing significant damage around the town of Matador, a meteorologist said Thursday.
The storms produced strong winds that swept across Texas, from the Panhandle to Houston, causing damage north of the city, according to weather officials.
A supercell developed about 8 p.m. Wednesday near Amarillo before striking the small town of Matador, said senior forecaster Matt Ziebell with the National Weather Service in Lubbock. He called it “certainly rare to see all at the same time — killer tornadoes, hurricane-force winds and softball-sized hail.”
The damage was concentrated on a 1-mile stretch with businesses and homes demolished along the west side of Matador, a town where “everybody knows everybody,” said Brandon Moore, Matador’s water superintendent who is also a volunteer firefighter.
“It was supposed to move east of us and within a five-minute timespan, it all changed and switched directions and came straight through Matador,” Moore said. “We probably had about two minutes of warning to get everybody together and get to safety. There’s a few people that didn’t make it out of the house, but we did rescue several people and they made it out alright.”
The city is getting lots of help from people arriving from outside the community, he said.
“Everybody in the world is offering to come help, which is good,” Moore said. “We’re trying to clean up the mess now and go from there.”
The storm produced 109 m.p.h (175 k.p.h) winds at Jayton in addition to hail more than 4-inches (10.2-centimetres) wide, Ziebell said, and the weather service reported a 97 m.p.h (156 k.p.h) wind gust — the strongest ever recorded at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston since data collection began there in 1969. The previous record there was 82 m.p.h (132 k.p.h) during Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Much of the wind damage near Houston — downed trees and knocked down power lines and fences — happened north of the city.
Ziebell said the weather service would send crews to survey the damage on Thursday and determine the strength of the tornadoes. Wednesday “was definitely a rare combination of high-end wind shear and storms of extreme instability,” according to Ziebell.
Search and rescue efforts also continued, although no one is known to be missing, according to Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Johnny Bures.
“We want to make sure no one was passing through town, that was our concern,” Bures said. “That’s what we’re really double-checking for.”
The worst damage appeared to be in Matador — a town of about 570 people about 70 miles (112 kilometres) northeast of Lubbock in Motley County. Homes were damaged, buildings were flattened and power lines were snapped in half. A restaurant’s walls were all knocked down, but the booths remained standing in what was called a “jaw-dropping” scene by Derek Delgado, a spokesman for Lubbock Fire Rescue, which is assisting the town.
“You would look on one side where we had a general merchandise store completely flattened to the ground but across the street, there’s a house that’s still standing and the vehicles haven’t even moved from the driveway,” Delgado said by telephone.
Power outages were widespread across the sparsely populated west Texas region, with more than 900 customers without power in the Matador and Jayton areas alone, according to poweroutage.us. They’re in Motley and Kent County, which have fewer than 2,000 people combined.
In the Houston area, more than 133,000 customers remained without power on Thursday.
Wednesday’s tornado outbreak came six days after a tornado left three people dead and more than 100 injured in Perryton in the northern Texas Panhandle.
Another hailstorm pummeled concertgoers at Red Rocks Amphitheater Wednesday night in Morrison, Colorado, near Denver. Seven people were hospitalized, according to KMGH-TV. None of those taken to hospitals had life-threatening injuries, and up to 90 people were treated for injuries at the amphitheatre, according to West Metro Fire Rescue.
Associated Press reporter Juan Lozano in Houston contributed to this report.