For 31 years, Joe Harris has worked as a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, but he has never been one to go storm chasing.
Just weeks before he retires, a tornado found him.
After getting off work at 4 p.m. Thursday, Harris was stuck in traffic at Meacham Boulevard and Sylvania Avenue. There he saw a tornado form and rip into the roof of the BBVA Compass Bank building at Interstate 35W and Meacham a few hundred yards away.
Even though forecasters had been talking about the possibility of a tornado all day, Harris wasn’t expecting anything dangerous as the storm cell approached him.
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“In about 15 seconds, the wind came up,” Harris said. “Then the roofing material started peeling off that building.”
The tornado hurled debris on top of cars in the parking lot.
A QuikTrip store near Northeast 28th Street just west of I-35W also sustained minor damage, and there were reports of minor damage at the Coors Distributing plant, said Juan Ortiz, Fort Worth’s emergency management coordinator.
As the twister moved over the intersection, Harris was concerned about flying debris.
“I made a right turn and got out of there and called the office,” Harris said, describing what he saw as a “little finger” of a funnel moving away from him.
Moments later, the funnel cloud was seen by other forecasters as it passed within a quarter-mile of the weather service office at 3401 Northern Cross Blvd. The weather service barometer recorded the sudden drop in pressure at 4:14 p.m.
“It was said and done within about 30-40 seconds,” Harris said.
Forecasters surveyed the damage Friday morning and rated the twister as an EF-0 with winds from 80 to 90 mph. The tornado was on the ground for 3.9 miles. Peak winds were 85 mph, and it was never wider than 100 yards.
“This was an isolated cell by itself, and that’s the ones you have to worry about,” Harris said.
A round of storms Thursday night also dumped hail in the Decatur area, and there was an unconfirmed report of two tornadoes in Grayson County.
Flooding problems occurred again overnight in Navarro County, where 1.97 inches was recorded at Corsicana Airport.
Despite the severe weather, rainfall totals were fairly light.
Dallas/Fort Worth Airport recorded only 0.10 inch. Both Dallas Love Field and Fort Worth Meacham Airport recorded 0.33 inch. Denton had far heavier rainfall, 1.42 inches.
Harris, 62, will work his last shift at the weather service on Thanksgiving.
In retirement, he still plans to pay attention to the forecast.
“I’m going to watch the weather and complain like everybody else,” Harris said.