It wasn't quite a drought-buster, but 4 inches and more of rain across North Texas draped a dripping wet blanket on a 16-month dry spell.
The slow-moving storm that fired up Tuesday afternoon and stretched into Wednesday morning dropped 4.26 inches at DFW Airport making it the biggest rainmaker since Tropical Storm Hermine spilled 6.25 inches of rain on Sept. 7-9, 2010, said Jennifer Dunn, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.
The sustained downpour brought a sigh of relief from Tarrant County water managers.
Lake Arlington, which had dropped to 60 percent capacity in August, rose by 4 feet and was full for the first time since Sept. 30, 2010.
Eagle Mountain Lake, which was down to 77 percent in August, rose about 2 feet to a just more than 3 feet below capacity. Lake Worth jumped by 2.3 feet while Bridgeport and Benbrook reservoirs rose about a foot. Lake Weatherford rose 2.6 feet by Wednesday afternoon and was still rising, though it was still about 5 feet below capacity.
"If this trend continues for another month, we'll be sitting pretty for this summer," said David Marshall, engineering services director for the Tarrant Regional Water District.
Runoff will keep flowing into area lakes for several days so they could rise even further.
It's too early to tell how much Richland Chambers Reservoir and Cedar Creek Lake, where 80 percent of the water supply for the water district is located, will climb. The rains started later in that area east and southeast of Fort Worth.
"I'm estimating we'll be at 77-78 percent of our system capacity from these rains,'' Marshall said, a significant jump from the low of 67 percent at the end of November.
Still, it probably won't be enough to lift twice-a-week outdoor watering restrictions that went into effect last summer.
As with any downpour, there was a downside: Firefighters had to rescue motorists who drove into high water or to help push stalled cars out of water.
In far east Fort Worth, at Precinct Line Road and Trinity Boulevard, five cars stalled in high water just before 6 a.m., according to a news release from engineer Tim Hardeman, a fire department spokesman. A dive team from Station 7 used a boat to get five people out of the vehicles. No one was injured.
At 8:18 a.m., Fort Worth firefighters responded to a 911 call about a car in the water at Cromwell Marine Creek Road at Riverwater Trail in northwest Fort Worth. They found one car on the road and a second car washed about 75 yards off the road. Neither vehicle was occupied, and no bodies were found, Hardeman wrote.
In three other high water incidents, Fort Worth firefighters helped push stalled vehicles out of the roadway.
Haltom City Deputy Chief Fred Napp said that no one was injured during a high-water rescue about 6:30 a.m. in the 5900 block of Glenview Drive, but the operation was hampered by drivers in pickups and vans who ignored rescuers' shouts and gestures.
Haltom City shut down one side of the crossing over Fossil Creek, where Napp said high water problems are common, but city workers were unable to reach the other side to put up barricades.
As rescuers put a life preserver on a stranded motorist and began to walk him out of the rain-swollen Fossil Creek, "we were having to watch for these drivers coming through and dealing with the wakes they were causing," Napp said.
"We'd wave and try to stop them and they'd just stare at us like we were crazy."
David Magana, public affairs manager for Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, said that, during the worst of the storms Wednesday morning, only about 32 flights out of the airport were cancelled.
The drenching was generated by a strong and slow-moving upper-level low over West Texas that was fed by a stream of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, Dunn said.
The 4.26 inches at DFW Airport pushed the station to 6.76 inches in January, 5 inches above normal.
A few areas in Tarrant County got considerably more, with 6.34 inches recorded at White Lake and 6.22 inches at Fosdic Lake.
The storm system soaked the eastern half of Texas with between 3-5 inches falling along the Interstate 35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio. Six to 9 inches were recorded between San Marcos and Lockhart, according to the weather service.
Light rain was expected to resume Wednesday night in North Texas and continue into Thursday, producing up to another inch of rainfall
"This will put a really nice dent in the drought," Dunn said. "It's a little out of the ordinary for this time of the year. It's been a while since we had soaking rain like this winter," she said.
But even that probably won't be enough to end the stress on parched landscapes, said Laura Miller of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Fort Worth.
"This is great rain, but it probably is not enough to undo the damage," she said. "We won't really know with large plants like trees how they will recover from the stress. Established trees decline slowly; we might be losing trees for the next two years because of the drought."
Another plus for plants so far this winter is that temperatures haven't been extreme, Miller said.
The rain slowed traffic on the road and in the air.
North Texas skies are expected to begin clearing Thursday night, with sunny skies and a high of 64 degrees forecast for Friday.
A weak cold front is expected to drop temperatures to around freezing Saturday night after a high in the lower 50s.
Sunday is expected to be sunny with a high of 58.
Staff writers Eva-Marie Ayala, Bill Hanna, Elizabeth Campbell, Terry Evans, Patrick Walker, Lance Winter contributed to this report.
Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981