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Hail pelts Fort Worth, shuts Main St. Arts Festival

FORT WORTH -- A line of storms packing up to baseball-sized hail pelted the Dallas-Fort Worth area this evening, causing the Main Street Arts Festival to close down.

A "hook echo" prompted tornado warnings in Parker and Palo Pinto counties beginning about 6:20 p.m., and vendors at the arts festival in downtown Fort Worth began shuttering their exhibits at 6:45 p.m. Tarrant remained under a flash flood warning until 10:15 p.m. and a severe thunderstorm warning until 9:15 p.m.

"Right now, the official word is the artists have been asked to shut down their booths," festival spokeswoman Diane Wolfe said. About 10 minutes later, festival organizers decided to shut down for the night. After the storm passed, they conducted a walk-through of festival grounds and determined that festivities are a "go" for 10 a.m. Friday.

"I believe the right call was made there," said Juan Ortiz, emergency management coordinator for Fort Worth and Tarrant County. "The organizers made the right call by closing early and having people leave the area in anticipation of the storm."

Marble-sized hail pelted Fort Worth shortly after 8 p.m., then gave way to heavy rain. The hail carpeted some areas and heavy winds had some people scurrying for cover.

Customers at Zambrano wine bar downtown scattered away from the windows facing Houston Street as the wind blew orange traffic barrels into the side of businesses.

After a moment, the winds died down and hail pounded the street. Bar owner Cef Zambrano scurried outside and collected a handful. "Size of marbles," he said. "I was going to put it in the freezer but it started melting."

Chris McFarland, a White Settlement resident, said: "It looks like snow outside. Golf ball-size hail just hit. The front yard is solid white."

Gov. Rick Perry was in town signing copies of his new book on the Boy Scouts at the TCU Barnes & Noble when the hailstorm hit. Perry's aides and store employees were closely monitoring the weather, debating whether to close the event early so they could beat the storm.

Eventually, Perry stayed and signed the books of all 200 or so admirers. When he saw the last person in line at 8:09 p.m., he stayed in the store for another 20 minutes until the storm had mostly passed.

Perry was staying at the Gaylord Texan Resort. Since the storm was currently headed east toward Grapevine, an aide said they were going to grab something to eat.

At 7:25 p.m., a tornado was seen by a trained weather spotter 67 miles north of Aledo in Parker County. There was no estimate of magnitude, according to preliminary reports from the National Weather Service.

Residents in nearby Willow Park reported as much as two inches of golf ball-sized hail and larger. "Everything is covered white," one resident said.

Warning sirens were activated in Bedford in Northeast Tarrant County about 8 p.m., but Fort Worth and most of Tarrant seemed to have been spared major damage.

"Reports are slowly coming in," Ortiz said. "Most of the calls are related to flash flooding. People are calling, saying they're stuck in certain areas."

After pelting central Fort Worth, the storm moved east into Arlington, which was hit shortly before 8:30 p.m., and then into Dallas.

Heavy rain and light hail hit Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie just after the fifth race of the evening. The storm quickly blew through but left behind a sloppy track and a saturated turf course. The sixth race was delayed for more than an hour.

In Arlington, school trustees canceled a public hearing on gang intervention. The hearing will not be rescheduled, officials said. Instead, residents are invited to a summit sponsored by the school district and city with gang experts May 3 at the AISD Professional Development Center.

At the American Airlines Center in Dallas, where the Stars were hosting the Anaheim Ducks in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series, it was the calm before the storm. Large gusts of wind sent banners hanging along the building aflutter and lightning made for a pretty exceptional sky show outside the arena.

The hail in Mineral Wells in Palo Pinto County was bigger than golf ball-sized, said Becky Moore, manager of the Dairy Queen on East Hubbard Street in Mineral Wells.

"The back of the property is messed up," Moore said. "Both front and back of my vehicle windows are totally shattered. The roof (of the Dairy Queen) is dented in. It's leaking in the back by where the kitchen is and it's leaking in the front of the store behind the register. It tore up the roof."

FSN Southwest, which was scheduled to broadcast the Rangers-Blue Jays game from Toronto beginning at 6 p.m., reported a "server problem" at the network's Houston facility, preventing broadcast. An FSN Southwest spokesperson said the station was working "diligently" to repair it. The pregame show was also lost to the technical snafu.

As expected, a cold front came lumbering out of the northwest, kicking up a line of thunderstorms from Abilene and stretching across North Texas.


Forecasters had been watching for signs all day.

"It will be a line of showers and thunderstorms ahead of the front," said Staci Hanes, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "But that should all be over around 8 p.m., but definitely before midnight."

The weather service forecast also calls for a 60 percent chance for rain Friday, but showers and thunderstorms will be most likely before 7 a.m. The rest of the day will be partly cloudy with a high near 70.

But then get ready for a sparkling weekend, which is expected to be sunny or partly sunny with temperatures around 80 on Saturday and Sunday -- perfect for the remainder of the arts festival's run.

(Star-Telegram writers Alex Branch, Ray Buck, Gary West and Keeli Garza and correspondent Susan Tallant contributed to this report.)