Front wallops area with strong winds, a mess of dust

Posted Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

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This isn't a blue norther. It's a brown one.

After a record-breaking balmy day, a cold front barreled into Tarrant County on Wednesday night, dragging a load of gritty West Texas real estate with it.

As the temperature started to fall, the dust lowered visibility to about two miles at 9:15 p.m., said Matt Bishop, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

"It's pretty widespread," Bishop said.

Earlier Wednesday, the front produced snow in the Plains states and damaging winds in the Texas Panhandle, creating a dust storm that shut down Interstate 27.

The high temperature Wednesday in Dallas-Fort Worth was a record 78. It was still 77 shortly before 9 p.m. -- but the temperature had plummeted some nine hours later to 40 with a wind chill in the upper 20s.

Just before 8 p.m., thunderstorms were spotted in southeast Fort Worth near Southeast Loop 820 and U.S. 287, said Mark Fox, a meteorologist with the weather service.

Little rain accompanied the storms, which raked the region along a line stretching northeast to southeast from the Red River to around Waco, but they were accompanied by 40- to 50-mph winds, Fox said.

A gust of 52 mph was recorded at DFW Airport shortly before 11 p.m.

'Like a whiteout'

While moving through West Texas, the front stirred up a dust storm that triggered a series of collisions that killed one person, injured at least 17 and led authorities to close part of Interstate 27 north of Lubbock, a spokesman with the Texas Department of Public Safety said.

Cpl. John Gonzalez said 23 vehicles were involved in chain-reaction crashes south of Abernathy as gusts of up to 55 mph whipped up sand and dust in nearby fields.

"It was like a whiteout. Only this would be black," Gonzalez said. "You couldn't see past the hood of your vehicle."

Gonzalez said the wrecks occurred on southbound I-27 early Wednesday afternoon. A half-dozen occurred in "domino fashion" as visibility dropped to zero.

One man was killed when the sport utility vehicle in which he was traveling slammed into the back of a tractor-trailer.

None of the other injuries appeared serious, Gonzalez said.

The accidents prompted authorities to close about a five-mile stretch of the highway in both directions between Abernathy and New Deal for about six hours.

Although the road was reopened, the DPS issued a news release "strongly discouraging any travel along the I-27 corridor between Lubbock and Amarillo due to extremely dangerous conditions."

Drought causes sand to blow off hot, dry dirt. Landowners were being asked to plow their fields, making it more likely that the sand remains settled, Gonzalez said.

"The wind is just terrible, and that's something we hope will help," he said.

Eric Finley, a spokesman for University Medical Center in Lubbock, said 12 people involved in the accidents arrived at that hospital and were treated for moderate or minor injuries.

"There was nothing to indicate anything major," he said.

A sudden shift

Until Wednesday night, shorts and T-shirts had been the norm for much of December as temperatures lingered in the 70s and 80s.

The high of 78 surpassed the record for the date of 73, set in 2008. Record highs were also measured at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport on Dec. 1 and 2, when temperatures soared to 83.

The high temperature on Thursday is expected to be in the low 50s. The low Friday morning is forecast to drop to be in the 20s.

Staff writer Lee Williams contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press.

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