Storms bring much needed rain, unforgiving winds

05/08/2014 8:56 AM

05/09/2014 8:21 AM

A series of thunderstorms brought much needed rain to North Texas on Thursday, triggering flash flood warnings and packing damaging winds that ripped trees apart and destroyed at least one building.

Three Joshua residents escaped serious injury when the mobile home they were in was demolished by straight-line winds of 70 to 80 mph, said Burney Baskett, executive director of Johnson County Emergency Services District No. 1.

“Two adults and a child were in it when it was hit,” Baskett said. “It was a work of God that they weren’t hurt.”

Baskett said numerous trees were blown down in the area, some hitting power lines.

In south Dallas, five teens who were skipping school became trapped by rising waters along a creek and had to be rescued by Dallas Fire-Rescue, according to WFAA TV. All five were taken to Children’s Medical Center and were “awake and alert,” spokesman Jason Evans said.

Eastern and southeastern Dallas County were blasted with high winds, causing widespread power outages.

“That area reflects the hardest-hit areas,” Oncor spokesman Kris Spears said. “The bulk of outages are a direct result of the very high straight-line winds that caused trees to fall on power lines and equipment.”

Spears said about 39,000 customers in Dallas, Denton, Johnson, Parker and Tarrant counties were without electricity.

The storms were relatively mild in Fort Worth and Tarrant County but became intense as they moved east.

More than 260 departures at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport were canceled because of the weather — about 25 percent of the daily schedule. DFW spokesman David Magana said terminal concessionaires remained open later than usual to accommodate stranded travelers.

Rain totals at 3 p.m. ranged from 0.32 inch at Fort Worth Meacham Airport to 0.51 inch at DFW Airport to 2.66 inches at Dallas Executive Airport, northwest of downtown, said meteorologist Dennis Cain with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

That would bring this year’s official total at DFW to 4.44 inches, 8.17 inches below normal.

The forecast Friday through Sunday in North Texas calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 80s. Rain returns to the forecast Monday, with a 30 percent chance, according to the weather service.

Drought still in place

Despite the rain, most of North Texas is in an extreme drought — conditions that could trigger another stage of water restrictions in Tarrant County, authorities have said.

Thursday’s storms were a nice start, “but we need a whole lot more of it,” said Mary Gugliuzza, Fort Worth’s water utility supervisor. “It will knock down immediate water demands. But it’s too soon to know what impact, if any, it’s had on lake levels.”

What’s desperately needed is a lot of rain in the watershed that feeds Cedar Creek, Richland Chambers and Bridgeport lakes, Gugliuzza said.

“Bridgeport really needs it,” she said. “It’s getting close to 22 feet low.”

Tarrant County is still at Stage 1 water restrictions, with lake levels at 68 percent as of Thursday morning, Gugliuzza said.

“The trigger for Stage 2 is 60 percent, and we really don’t want to get to that,” she said. “It limits outdoor watering to one day a week, and we’ve never been there before.”

‘Praying every day for rain’

The drought is even worse to the west and northwest, where people in Wichita Falls have seen their reservoirs drop near 25 percent of capacity. The city of 100,000 faces Stage 5 restrictions. Already forbidden by Stage 4 restrictions from outdoor watering, residents would be denied water to fill swimming pools, and carwashes would be closed two days a week.

The 1 1/2 inches or so that fell on Wichita Falls’ small neighbor, Windthorst, answered prayers, said Scott Vieth, 35, who works 1,000 head of dairy cattle with his father, Jerry Vieth.

“We’re praying every day for rain,” Vieth said. “You thank the man upstairs when it starts and you pray that it won’t stop.”

Water isn’t as critical at the 45-year-old dairy as it is in town, Vieth said.

“Some dairies use city water for their cows,” he said. “We built a pretty large tank. On a golf course, it’d probably be called a lake.”

The main problem for the Vieths and their neighbors is the lakes that Wichita Falls and surrounding towns use, Vieth said.

“Lake Arrowhead and Kickapoo,” he said. “Those are the ones we’re worried for more than the farm.”

Water still being tested

With plummeting levels in Lake Kemp, along with Arrowhead and Kickapoo, Wichita Falls officials want to use a 50-50 blend of recycled wastewater and reservoir water to make the potable water that pours from customers’ taps.

The city won’t know for a few days how much impact Thursday’s rain had on its lakes, spokesman Barry Levy said.

Regardless of Thursday’s downpour, it will be several weeks before effluent is mixed with lake water at the treatment plant, pending approval from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

“TCEQ has requested 30 more days of testing, followed by several weeks of analysis of our findings,” Levy said. “If all goes well, they are looking at July 1, give or take a few days, of letting us officially go on line.”

Commission officials, however, declined to say when any approval might come.

“A specific ‘startup to end’ timeline cannot be committed to at this stage of the data-gathering process,” spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said.

Staff writers Andrea Ahles and Bill Miller contributed to this report.

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