Severe weather killed at least one person and injured several as it trekked across the southern half of the U.S. Wednesday, spawning tornadoes and damaging storms along with flash flooding.
A multi-unit apartment building was heavily damaged in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Wednesday night amidst unconfirmed reports of a tornado in the area. Arkansas Department of Emergency Management spokesperson Melody Daniel told weather.com that several people were transported to the hospital. There was no immediate word on their condition.
Trees and power lines were also reported down in the area.
The storms were also blamed for a fire that broke out at a natural gas refinery in rural Columbia County, Arkansas, near the Louisiana border Wednesday evening. Daniel said the local emergency management officer reported that the fire was caused by a lightning strike.
“The fire is out now. There were no injuries,” she said.
A portion of US Highway 371 was reportedly closed as firefighters battled the blaze.
NEW: More pictures of that fire at a natural gas refinery plant in Columbia County, AR. (photo credit: Wendy Peterson). pic.twitter.com/GgrnZ5k7Za— KSLA News 12 (@KSLA) May 8, 2019
As the storms marched east, a tornado warning was issued in Shreveport, Louisiana. A family of seven – two adults and five children – escaped serious injury there when a tree fell on their house, according to a report by KSLA News. A tree fell on another occupied home in Frierson, where a man told the network he barely escaped getting hit as he walked from his kitchen to the living room to watch weather reports on TV.
Earlier on Wednesday, the body of a man washed away by high water was found in Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas, the Austin-Travis County Emergency Management Service tweeted Wednesday afternoon. No further details were reported.
Water Rescue at ~800 W 9th street @STAR_Flight_TC is reporting they have located a a body in the water that appears to be motionless in lady bird lake. Rescuers moving to make contact. More To Follow…— ATCEMS (@ATCEMS) May 8, 2019
The severe weather also prompted evacuations, road closures, school closings and rescues in Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma, as well as possible tornadoes in Texas.
More than 100,000 homes and businesses were without power in the hardest hit areas late Wednesday night, according to poweroutage.us. Nearly half of those were in eastern Texas.
In Houston, dozens of abandoned cars were towed Wednesday after flash flooding stranded motorists. Water rescues continued in parts of Texas Wednesday morning, including a reported rescue in Mertzon, Texas, about 30 miles southwest of San Angelo.
High water rescues were also underway early Wednesday in the southwest Fort Worth, Texas, area as heavy rain from storms pummeled the region.
A tornado was reported near College Station, Texas, where the Southeastern Conference NCAA Softball Championships were taking place. Play was halted and teams took shelter inside.
No worries.— Auburn Softball (@AuburnSoftball) May 8, 2019
Safely at the hotel laundry room waiting out the storms coming through College Station. pic.twitter.com/yMUZ7G6KoH
Several school districts in the affected areas held students in place until the threat passed.
The tornado caused damage to buildings in Robertson County, just north of College Station. A church was damaged and trees knocked down by another possible tornado in Longview, Texas, between Dallas and Shreveport.
First tornado report of the afternoon came from Elliot ( just east of the Hwy 79 exit off Hwy 6) in Robertson County. Here's some of the damage left behind as that tornado warned storms wobbled southeast— Shel Winkley (@KBTXShel) May 8, 2019
?: April Barnett pic.twitter.com/BkSbPr7bHA
A second tornado was reported near Longview, Texas.
In Oklahoma City early Wednesday, a number of people were rescued from vehicles stranded in high water.
A school bus carrying students became stranded Wednesday in central Oklahoma after the driver tried to turn the bus around to avoid driving through high water. No one was injured.
First responders were on the scene early Wednesday at a home in Yukon, Oklahoma, about 17 miles west of Oklahoma City, where a woman was trapped by a collapsed roof, the Oklahoman reported.
Flooding forced the closure of Interstate 35 in Kansas from the Oklahoma border to the Mulvane exit late Tuesday. The turnpike reopened Wednesday afternoon.
Flooding prompted an emergency declaration Wednesday in Sumner County, in south-central Kansas.
Residents were evacuated in several parts of the state, including an area about 5 miles west of Manhattan and a part of Marion County in the central part of the state.
Numerous water rescues were necessary in Augusta, Kansas, about 25 miles east of Wichita.
Days of heavy rain have left many areas across north and south-central Kansas flooded, and the flood waters will remain a concern through Thursday as more rain is in the forecast. https://t.co/PdC70oqcmK #KAKEnews #kswx pic.twitter.com/PysrBocSKk— KAKE News (@KAKEnews) May 8, 2019
Flash Flooding Hits Houston Hard
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told The Weather Channel that rescuers used boats and high water rescue vehicles Tuesday evening to reach some stranded motorists.
“We have people that are actually in flooded-out cars that are too deep to get to on foot,” he said, adding that everyone should stay off the roadways.
Ana Landa, who left her car on a flooded Houston street, told KTRK people were forced to get on top of their cars.
“People were pushing cars and getting cars out of the water. It was really bad,” Landa said.
Hundreds of students were stranded Tuesday night and had to spend the night at an elementary school in Cleveland, Texas, about 45 miles north of Houston. Flash flooding prevented parents and busses from getting children home. Schools were closed there on Wednesday.
The Houston Fire Department tweeted it had received about 250 calls for high water rescues in the Kingwood area on the north side of the city, and had conducted about 40 rescues, including one of a woman who was in labor. Firefighters were also checking homes that may have been flooded.
“Hundreds of homes have been affected by rising water in the Kingwood area,” department spokeswoman Sheldra Brigham tweeted late Tuesday night. “HFD has boots on the ground to check and clear those homes.“
Houston Transtar, the city’s transportation department, reported 35 incidences of flooding on major thoroughfares as of 9:30 p.m. local time. Those included parts of Interstate 69 in Montgomery and Fort Bend counties and parts of interstates 45 and 610.
Incredible rainfall today across the greater #Houston metro region has led to flash flooding & high water rescues. Two "bullseye" areas with Doppler-estimated 10-12"+ of rain in a 12-hour stretch (9AM to 9PM; May 7). #TXwx pic.twitter.com/8hlVROFKpy— Steve Bowen (@SteveBowenWx) May 8, 2019
All major roads in the city of Sugar Land were impassable Tuesday evening. Fort Bend County, where Sugar Land is located, declared a local state of disaster. City spokesman Doug Adolph told The Weather Channel that rainfall surpassed the city’s storm drain capacity.
“We’re seeing conditions that are far worse than what we experienced during Hurricane Harvey,” Adolph said. “What we’re seeing is widespread street flooding throughout the city. Fortunately we have not had a large number of reports of structural flooding but we are seeing some.”
He added that firefighters had responded to several reports of house fires caused by lightning strikes, but no injuries had been reported.
KHOU News shared video of a home flooding in Richmond, near Sugar Land.
This home in Richmond, TX flooded tonight. Alie King just moved in recently and says there are now 4 inches throughout. She has two little boys. Luckily they're safe but have to deal with this mess. #KHOU11 @KHOU #Texas pic.twitter.com/mqLzGdmYHd— Lauren Talarico (@KHOULauren) May 8, 2019
The New Caney Independent School District north of Houston canceled classes for Wednesday.
Near Houston, the Spring Fire Department was helping residents leave their homes as the streets filled with water. Several flights were delayed or canceled at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Spring firefighters are having a busy afternoon with the street flooding. Firefighter Lucas Hale and the crew of Engine 73 helped get people out of Treehouse Lane. H/T to firefighter Nathan Smith pic.twitter.com/cPeTfkPLpR— Spring Fire Department (@Springfdtx) May 7, 2019
Also in Spring, a school bus had gone off the road while driving through high water, KHOU reported. The report said there were children on the bus but no one was injured.
The dangers of driving on flooded road. This Spring ISD school bus is now on three wheels. We saw it navigate through the high water. Kids were on board. Luckily no one was hurt. #khou11 pic.twitter.com/17ymgzrv3l— David Gonzalez (@DavidGonzKHOU) May 7, 2019
Tornadoes and baseball-size hail were reported in the Texas Panhandle. There were no immediate reports of damages or injury. A tornado was spotted in Tulia, Texas, just after 6 p.m. local time.
River Flooding Continues
Meanwhile, although waters had receded somewhat on swollen rivers in the Midwest, flooding remains a concern, especially with more rain in the forecast.
The Pin Oak levee is threatening about 100 homes in Winfield, Missouri, about 45 miles northeast of St. Louis, the AP reported.
In St. Paul, Minnesota, flooding on the Mississippi River this spring has surpassed the record for the longest period of flooding ever measured in the city. The river was above flood stage for 42 straight days, surpassing the 2001 record of 33 days.
Overtaxed levees across the region remain threatened by floodwaters.
About 150 people have been displaced by a levee breach in St. Charles County, Missouri. Several other levees in the region were either topping or were breached, including a levee in Pike County, near Clarksville.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the rash of wet weather is delaying crop planting in Iowa. According to the agency, only 36 percent of Iowa’s expected corn crop had been planted by Sunday, five days behind the five-year average. Soybean planting is also behind schedule, with only about 8 percent of the expected crop planted, two days behind the five-year average.
So far this year, flooding has killed 43 people, according to the National Weather Service.
Most of those deaths have occurred in the central United States where copious amounts of precipitation has fallen in the first four months of the year and triggered both river flooding and flash flooding.
The flooding death toll this year has easily surpassed the 31 people killed by tornadoes in 2019 through May 6. That follows the long-term trend of flooding being one of the most deadly weather events annually, even though it doesn’t typically garner as much attention as tornadoes and hurricanes do.
Flooding has killed an average of 87 people annually between 1989 and 2018, according to NOAA. Only heat has been deadlier, on average, over that three-decade period. This year’s death toll from flooding through early May is also already at half its annual average.
Of the 43 people killed by flooding in the U.S. so far this year, about 70 percent, or 30 people, were killed while driving.
When heavy rain threatens, never try to drive through a flooded road.