A ferocious late winter storm struck Texas early in the morning of March 12th. With less than a week until the first day of spring, winter decided it wasn’t going to stand by and quietly let us move on to sunny days and warmer weather.
The National Weather Service (NWS) had given out warnings for several days ahead of the storm’s arrival. When the storm arrived it lived up to all of the hype and then some as it struck with intense winds that exceeded the 74 mph winds of minor hurricanes.
The storm’s track brought it in from the Rockies as it first entered from the north into New Mexico and then hooked east into Texas. In New Mexico the area of the state east of Albuquerque was struck the hardest. At 11:55 p.m. on March 11th, a Chaves County New Mexico sheriff’s deputy in Dexter reported a rain-wrapped tornado north of Hagerman that went into Dexter. Several homes were damaged but there were no reports of injuries or deaths.
As the front continued in a southeasterly direction, Eddy County, NM was hit with winds of 76 mph and a confirmed tornado touched down southeast of Chaves County at 12:11 a.m. A possible third tornado struck and damaged one home and some power lines in Hockley County, Texas but it was never confirmed.
Eddy County, NM took the brunt of the storm front. There was the tornado just after midnight at 12:11 a.m. The area was then hit with golf ball and quarter sized hail in and around Carlsbad and in Loving. A ranger at Carlsbad Caverns was the first to report the hail. In Texas, Reeves County was then hit with quarter-sized hail at 12:38 a.m. At 1:01 a.m. Marfa was hit with quarter-sized hail.
The largest hail would hit Ward County in west Texas as the storm continued its track into the state. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that baseball size hail struck along county road 200 just north of Pecos at 1:15 a.m. Baseball-size hail continued as the storm rampaged east, severely damaging several vehicles and completely destroying one vehicle, according to NOAA. A critical factor was not just the size of the hail but also the fact that it was coming down in 50+ mph winds. Reeves, Loving and Menard counties received quarter-sized hail.
The winds generated by the fast-moving storm-front would end up doing most of the damage.
At 1:30 a.m. 79 mph winds struck the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains. The high winds at the McDonald Observatory lasted for well over 2 hours. Marfa was hit with 73 mph winds 5 minutes later at 1:35 a.m. The high winds continued, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. The winds and damage included 60+ mph winds in Lamesa that snapped multiple power poles at their base at 3:45 a.m. Lamesa’s wind gusts injured 1 person when the semi he was driving on highway 87 was blown over. The winds also heavily damaged two warehouses.
Big Spring registered 64 mph winds as the storm front swept over the west central Texas landscape. Midland had power poles snapped along East Front street and Terrell street. At 4:30 a.m., 58 mph winds struck Borden. In Dimmitt the high winds completely destroyed a steel building and knocked out power throughout the town. Snyder, Texas had multiple power lines broken and several RVs were toppled over. There were no reported injuries at that time.
The winds moved into the Agriplex and struck Ballinger in the pre-dawn hours as well. Winds in the area were measured at 72 mph. A power pole on county road 259, just off of highway 67, was snapped in half. Nolan County was hit hard with power lines broken and power poles snapped at the base throughout the county. At 5:40 a.m. several portable buildings were blown over along the I-20 corridor. An 18-wheeler at the intersection of Highway 84 and I-20 was blowing over. In San Angelo the roof on the Calvary Baptist Church was completely peeled off.
Every Texas county in the path of the storm front felt the brunt of the storm in one way or the other. The path of the storm was evident as it raged through Jones, Haskell, Throckmorton, Kiowa, Eastland, Kimble, Jack, Brown, Palo Pinto, Parker, Hood, Montague, Tarrant, Johnson, Dallas, Ellis, Grayson and many other counties. Another 18-wheeler was blown over outside of Sanger in Denton County. In Cleburne County a resident was injured when the winds struck and damaged her modular home. Grand Prairie in Dallas County recorded 80 mph winds. According to NOAA reports several 18-wheelers were blown over by the winds as they struck Dallas.
Fortunately the reported injuries were minor and most of the electrical power was restored within a few hours across the affected counties.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDoT) in Abilene took an expensive blow from the winds when their 300’ radio tower was bent over along the middle. The base of the tower was still attached at the ground but the top of the tower was leaning over touching the ground. The hulking metal frame of the tower looked as if it just got tired of the winds and bowed over in submission.
TXDoT-Abilene public information officer Cheryl Sawyers responded to my email inquiry:
“The main message that we want the public to know is that speed limits are set in optimal conditions, so even if it is sunny outside, when the winds are high and abnormal for the area then motorist need to adjust their speed accordingly. Give high profile vehicles space because they may not have a lot of control over lane drifting when a gust hits their vehicle. Other safety messages we have with severe weather are for motorist to go to DriveTexas.org for up to date roadway conditions. It is updated in real time and will have information about roadway closures due to debris, flooding, and accidents. We used this system last night to warn motorist of down power lines in the Synder area and a large 18-wheeler that tipped over and lost most of its load on the highway.
The tower was a 300ft tower, built in 2012, but as it stands now is only about 30ft. We had a range of 300 miles but now we are using a backup tower that only gets around a 175 mile range.”
The NWS-San Angelo is holding Skywarn weather observer classes around Agriplex. They have already held a few of the classes but they still have upcoming classes in Sweetwater on March 18th; Brady on March 19th; Brownwood on March 23rd; Mason on March 25th; Ozona on March 26th; San Angelo on March 30th; Junction on April 9th; Richland Springs on April 15th and Bronte on April 22nd. For times and specific locations for the training you can check out the NWS-San Angelo schedule at www.weather.gov/sjt/skywarn2019.