Severe storms drench Texas, spawn at least 3 tornadoes
Jan. 25, 2012 at 10:05 p.m.
Updated Jan. 24, 2012 at 7:25 p.m.
HOUSTON (AP) - Buckets of rain and powerful winds that likely spawned several tornadoes swept across Texas on Wednesday, forcing drivers to abandon cars on flooded roads but not dropping enough water to make up for a historic dry spell.
The squall of storms swept from north to south, first pounding Dallas and Fort Worth overnight. At dawn, rescue workers were able to peek into car windows to make sure people weren't stuck in cars stranded in windshield-high water.
As the storms inched south and settled over Central Texas and Austin, record amounts of rain - more than 5 inches in some areas of the capital - drenched areas that just a few months ago battled the most devastating wildfires the state has ever seen.
By midday in Houston, some roads and freeways were flooded, and the Houston Independent School District canceled all afterschool activities.
But the downpour was seen as a blessing in some regions, including Washington County, a rural area northwest of Houston that hasn't seen much rain this year.
"It's really nice to see some of the cows in the county have water after all these months," said Robert Smith, the county's emergency management coordinator. "I think the cows are doing a jig."
Near San Antonio, some areas got more than 9 inches of rain, and the National Weather Service sent experts to survey storm damage to determine whether a tornado touched down overnight. The San Antonio Fire Department made 14 rescues, pulling people out of their vehicles after they drove into rising waters.
As the storms marched toward Houston, at least three tornados were reported.
The National Weather Service will have to survey the damage to confirm whether it was a tornado or straight-line winds that toppled trees and power lines, damaged businesses, blew out windows, flattened barns and ruined rooftops throughout Washington County and downtown Brenham, a town about 60 miles northwest of Houston. No one was injured.
Another apparent tornado damaged a tire shop in Somerville, and the third was seen in Waller County.
Still, meteorologists said Wednesday's storms would not be enough to end a drought that has parched Texas for more than a year.
"Certainly, it's not a drought-buster. We have a long way to go to dig out of a big hole," said Clay Anderson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service for the Austin and San Antonio region.
It was, however, one of the biggest rain events that some parts of the state have seen in months. A record 5.66 inches of rain dropped on the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport between midnight and early Wednesday, Anderson said. Some areas east of Austin and San Antonio got more than 9 inches of rain.