Extreme Temperature Diary- Friday May 17th, 2024/Main Topic: Deadly Complex of Storms Rolls through Houston…Was Climate Change Involved?

4 killed after powerful Houston storms leave nearly 700,000 without power – The Washington Post

4 dead as destructive thunderstorm blasts Houston

Meteorologists compared the wind damage to a hurricane.

By Kelsey AblesJason Samenow and Molly Hennessy-Fiske

At least four people were killed when a violent thunderstorm complex ripped through downtown Houston and the surrounding area Thursday evening, according to the Houston mayor’s office.

Early indications suggest that fallen trees caused two of the fatalities and another was related to a crane that blew over, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña told reporters.

The storm, which prompted warnings of further severe thunderstorms and tornadoes,cut power to more than 870,000 customers in the surrounding county Thursday evening. Nearly 700,000 customers in Harris County were still without power as of 8:45 a.m. Eastern time Friday.

Thursday’s winds were so fierce that they blew out skyscraper windows and tore off part of the roof of the Hyatt Regency hotel downtown, where rain and debris were pouring into the lobby, according to initial reports on social media. Glass from blown-out windows littered city streets.

“Downtown is a mess. It’s dangerous,” Houston Mayor John Whitmire said at a news conference late Thursday, urging people to stay home.

Whitmire said the storm brought 100 mph winds and left hazardous damage in its track across the city. Firefighters pulled live wires off U.S. Route 290, trees are blocking roadways, and most of the traffic lights in the city are not working, he said.

It was not immediately clear whether the damage in Houston was from a twister or straight-line winds.

Local schools will be closed Friday “due to widespread damage” across the city, the Houston Independent School District said on social media. Whitmire said he encouraged businesses to let employees work from home.

It could take 24 to 48 hours for power to return in some places, Whitmire said.

Brian Murray, Harris County’s deputy emergency management coordinator, said late Thursday that power was being restored and that there were many reports of “downed power lines in neighborhoods and across freeways.”

Jason Miles, a reporter for Houston television affiliate KHOU, wrote that the skyscraper damage reminded him of Hurricane Alicia, which slammed the city in 1983. Whitmire said the wind speeds were the “equivalent of Hurricane Ike,” which barreled through the region in 2008.

“The best way I can describe what happened tonight in Houston was that essentially a quick moving equivalent to a category 1 or low-end 2 storm just trucked across a large portion of a major metro area,” Matt Lanza, chief meteorologist for SpaceCityWeather.comwrote on X.

The same storm system also prompted numerous severe thunderstorm, tornado and flash flood warnings north and east of Houston. Storms extended into southern Louisiana, where there were reports of damage including downed trees and power lines from Lafayette to New Orleans, where winds gusted over 80 mph. A confirmed tornado struck near Convent, La., about 45 miles west of New Orleans, which toppled trees and power lines.

More than 130,000 customers were without power in Louisiana on Friday morning, according to online tracker PowerOutage.

As the violent storm approached Houston, the National Weather Service issued a dire severe-thunderstorm warning that predicted “destructive winds” of 80 mph. Doppler radar estimated that winds just above the ground may have surpassed 100 mph.

“Winds tend to be stronger with height — at the highest floors of the skyscrapers in #Houston’s business districts, the wind gusts exceeded 100 mph and may have been as high as 120 mph,” Craig Ceecee, a meteorologist who specializes in severe storms, wrote on X.

West of Houston, images emerged of power transmitters toppled and on their sides.

Forecasters had warned for days that dangerous storms would affect Texas and Louisiana on Thursday, but the primary concern was flooding. The Weather Service issued a rare “high risk” alert for excessive rainfall for parts of the area.

While the agency received dozens of reports of flooding between Dallas and New Orleans, the intense thunderstorms that raked the Houston area will probably end up as the most damaging and costly aspect of the storm.

The Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center received more than 100 reports of damaging winds, including a number of gusts over 80 mph, throughout Texas and southern Louisiana on Thursday.

The severe storms formed along a front that stalled on the northern Gulf Coast. Warm, humid air surging north out of the Gulf of Mexico collided with cooler, drier air north of the front, inciting the storm formation. This steamy air also spread over South Florida, setting numerous records.

A few additional intense storms are probable Friday across parts of the Gulf Coast and Mississippi Delta along the same front that brought Thursday’s severe weather.

A Level 2 out of 5 risk of severe thunderstorms has been drawn by the Storm Prediction Center for southeast Louisiana, including New Orleans and Baton Rouge; southern Mississippi including Gulfport; southern Alabama, including Mobile; southwest Georgia; and the Florida Panhandle.

The main concern will be for strong to locally damaging gusts of 50-60 mph and hail to quarter size, though an isolated tornado can’t be ruled out. Friday’s setup is a bit more removed from high-altitude jet stream energy, meaning there won’t be as much support for significant straight-line winds like those that slammed Houston on Thursday.

Waves of heavy rain will also accompany storms riding along the slow-moving front. That’s why a flood watch remains in effect for southern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

Additional strong to severe storms are possible across the Southeast on Saturday before the front finally shifts into the Atlantic.

By Kelsey Ables Kelsey Ables is a reporter at The Washington Post’s Seoul hub, where she covers breaking news in the United States and across the world. She was previously on the Features desk, where she wrote about art, architecture and pop culture.  Twitter

By Jason Samenow Jason Samenow is The Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang’s chief meteorologist. He earned a master’s degree in atmospheric science and spent 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the U.S. government. He holds the Digital Seal of Approval from the National Weather Association. Twitter

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske Molly Hennessy-Fiske joined The Post in 2022 as a national reporter based in Texas covering breaking news and red states. Twitter

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