July arrives with wildfires, rain, hail and dust storms.

Staff Writer
Runnels County Register
Visibility was cut to almost zero by dust that was kicked up by late afternoon storms across Runnels County. The conditions contributed to 2 collissions in Rowena.

Mother Nature decided to put up her own fireworks display prior to the July 4th holiday weekend. July arrived with a ferocity that saw golf ball sized hail, a dust storm with zero-visibility, wrecks and 4 wild land fires within the span of 59 minutes.

The temperature in Runnels County at 4:51 p.m. on Wednesday, July 1st, was 102 degrees with a warm, gentle 5 mph breeze flowing over the Agriplex. Within 9 minutes the winds had kicked up to 17 mph and the temperature started dropping. In another 10 minutes visibility dropped to zero from Miles to Paint Rock to Ballinger, about the time people were getting off of work and headed home. In less than an hour the temperature dropped 20 degrees.

The zero visibility was caused by extreme winds pushing sand and dust across unusually dry cropland. This year has been drier than the last few years and when the winds picked up in intensity at around 5 p.m., the dust picked up as well. According to NOAA data, winds that gusted to 17 mph soon began gusting to 25 mph, 30 mph, 40 mph and, within an hour, hit 50 mph in several places. One location 2 miles south of Ballinger had gusts at 60 mph on top of a steady 30 mph wind.

The Shamal-like winds formed the front of a large, rapidly developing storm. The sand and dust had knocked visibility down to zero with 50 mph winds blowing in from the southwest, almost perpendicular to Highway 67 in some stretches.

According to Runnels County Sheriff Carl Squyers, the ferocity of the winds and dust storm caused 2 traffic accidents in Rowena. The first accident occurred when the low visibility conditions caused several cars to rear-end each other on the highway in Rowena. Squyers said that the second accident was caused by a car rear-ending a tractor-trailer truck, “The second (accident) was a car running into the rear of the truck causing the truck to swerve just a bit, then the wind blew the truck over. The truck was empty.”

Within one hour, from 4:51 p.m. to 5:50 p.m. Mother Nature wreaked havoc. A large, empty plastic water tank, about 6’ tall, was blown almost 1/4 mile across a pasture and the highway. The tank was picked up south of Highway 67 by the wind which rolled it and tumbled it across the pasture, over 2 fences and across the highway before it came to a stop against the Texas Greenhouse located at 9222 US Hwy 67. Fortunately the tank didn’t cause any accidents or damage the home.

The Ballinger Volunteer Fire Department posted on their Facebook page that they had responded to 3 fires caused by cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, “Ballinger VFD received 3 lightning strike fires with the first starting at 5pm south of town around CR 215. Second call was northwest of town on FM 2111 between the lakes. With units spread out on two calls the third and much larger fire was toned out pushing 5:30 on CR 332 .BVFD units along with Winters VFD who were working on one of their own just north of us off of 2111 were able to meet us at the third one for mutual aid. All units were back in route home around 6:30pm. Big thank you to our brothers and sisters to the north.” Fortunately the rains that followed the wind and lightning were enough to help extinguish the fires.

Reports of large hail began coming in around 5:30 p.m. The area of the old Runnels County Veterinary Clinic on Hwy 67 had pea-sized hail while businesses and homes in Ballinger were struck with golf ball and ping-pong ball sized hail.

Ballinger Printing had several windows broken out by the hail, as did the Olde Park Hotel and several other businesses and homes around town. One home had several “hurricane” windows knocked out by the hail. The storm winds were so fierce that one woman asked on social media if the town had been struck by a tornado.

The National Weather Service in San Angelo said that the area experienced a micro-burst and straight-line winds. According to NOAA, the term “straight-line winds” is used to differentiate from tornadic winds, “Damaging winds are often called “straight-line” winds to differentiate the damage they cause from tornado damage. Strong thunderstorm winds can come from a number of different processes. Most thunderstorm winds that cause damage at the ground are a result of outflow generated by a thunderstorm downdraft. Damaging winds are classified as those exceeding 50-60 mph.“

Micro-bursts are described by NOAA as, “A small concentrated downburst that produces an outward burst of strong winds at or near the surface. Microbursts are small — less than 4 km across — and short-lived, lasting only five to 10 minutes, with maximum windspeeds sometimes exceeding 100 mph. There are two kinds of microbursts: wet and dry. A wet microburst is accompanied by heavy precipitation at the surface. Dry microbursts, common in places like the high plains and the intermountain west, occur with little or no precipitation reaching the ground.”

The rainfall that followed the storms brought almost an inch of rain to the parched area. Rainstorms have been few and far between this year and the rainfall was welcome, bringing a modicum of relief to crops and farms across the county.

More erratic weather is expected throughout the summer. Hot, dry, triple digit days that cause air masses to rise where they are then cooled and returned in the form of storms is a recipe for severe weather. It’s a tale of two halves of the day. During the late morning and early afternoon there are heat advisories, followed by storm advisories and warnings in the evening.

According to LiveScience.com, “As the rising moisture encounters colder temperatures in the upper cloud regions and begins to freeze, the frozen portion becomes negatively charged and the unfrozen droplets become positively charged. At this point, rising air currents have the ability to remove the positively charged droplets from the ice and carry them to the top of the cloud. The remaining frozen portion either falls to the lower portion of the cloud or continues on to the ground.”

Remember to keep an eye on the weather throughout the summer. Weather reports and warnings are posted on the newspaper’s social media pages on Facebook and Twitter. You can tune into NOAA weather radio at www.NOAAweatherradio.org. You can find NOAA Weather Radio online by clicking here.

Ginger Turner of Ballinger posted a photo of the golf ball and ping pong ball sized hail that struck her home.