- Huge storm hit Amarillo and covered up major highway with deep covering of hail
- Online commenters express scepticism and say amazing pictures only show ‘a bunch of rocks’
PUBLISHED: 16:42 EST, 12 April 2012 | UPDATED: 21:33 EST, 12 April 2012
A small town in Texas was hit with a whopper of a storm Wednesday morning that left four feet of hail in its wake.
Officials from the National Weather Service in Amarillo said that the storm was so severe and the hail so unrelenting that a major highway in Potter County was completely covered.
But the photos of the one-off event are so unbelievable that an army of online sceptics have cast doubt on their authenticity, suggesting that instead they may simply show large rocks.
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Seeing is believing: A freak storm hit Amarillo, Texas, and left behind four feet of hail, as can be seen in this picture posted by local authorities
Phenomenon: The enormous amounts of hail have led to flash flood from meltwater
Relief: The photos are so unreal, Facebook commenters didn’t believe the National Weather Service
Several vehicles got stuck in the flash flooding and two feet of water also struck a stretch of Highway 136, the weather service reported.
One Chevy Tahoe, a large SUV, got stuck in hail up to its hood, Krissy Scotten, a spokeswoman for the weather service office in Amarillo, told MSNBC.com.
When the weather service posted a photograph to Facebook of a firefighter next to the ice — which reached all the way up to his chest — commenters couldn’t believe their eyes.
‘That just doesn’t even look real! Dang!’ Bridget Hefner said on the site.
Commenters turned their disbelief into hypotheses, offering alternative explanations to the unbelievable reality.
‘Looks like a bunch of rocks/stones,’ suggested Tiffany Baugh Berry.
Another cynical poster wrote: ‘It’s a lite dusting of hail on some damn rocks.’
Perfect Storm: The snow stranded motorists in muddy, hail drifts and closed a highway for several hours
‘I can assure you we do not have big rocks like that in West Texas,’ Scotten retorted to MSNBC.com.
‘That was four feet of ice,’ she insisted, adding that the hail was compacted by rain and floodwater across a wide area.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE STORM
The storm which dumped several feet of hail on a Texas town was apparently a supercell, also known as a ‘rotating thunderstorm’.
While the hailstones produced by the storm were not extremely large, the slow-moving storm allowed the hail to accumulate in one place.
Meteorologist Jim LaDue wrote on his blog that the hail was the result of ‘the slow storm motion and its relatively efficient precipitation production’.
He continued: ‘The storm motion was so slow because the low-level easterly upslope nearly opposed the midlevel westerly flow.’
This unusual weather front creates a storm which moves particularly slowly, meaning that the area directly beneath it is heavily affected even if it is not otherwise particularly severe.
Of course, to create that much hail required a large amount of water in the atmosphere – and according to Mr LaDue, the air was indeed much more moist than would be expected for the season.
She blamed the ice’s rock-like appearance on drought.
‘We’re very dusty around here,’ she said.
‘It was actually the rain/water that caused the drifts,’ Scotten said. ‘Anytime you have hail accumulate two to four feet high and get over three inches of rain, no matter how it occurs, it’s pretty incredible.’
The Texas Department of Transportation said that at the storm’s climax, there was zero visibility on the road.
Maintenance crews worked on Thursday to clear roads after the storm, which left so much hail in its wake that workers had to use snow plows to clear the piles from the road.
‘It was crazy,’ National Weather Service Meteorologist Justyn Jackson said about the freak event.
As the hail started to melt, it created flash floods which swept through the area.
‘It looked like soap suds,’ said a local TV meteorologist. ‘The storm was moving really slow and a combination of the pea-sized hail and four to six inches of rain created those conditions.’
The rural area where the storm struck was mainly ranch land, about 25 miles north of Amarillo and south of Dumas. Rainwater gushed across the parched land, washing dirt and then mud into the hail, pushing it all onto U.S. 287, Potter County Sheriff Brian Thomas said.
‘There were just piles of hail,’ said Maribel Martinez with the Amarillo/Potter/Randall Office of Emergency Management. ‘Some of the cars were just buried in hail and people were trapped in their cars.’
The southbound lane of the highway, which was shut down around 5pm on Wednesday, finally reopened early on Thursday morning,.
Emergency crews also got several swift-water rescue calls as the road was flooded in low-lying areas, she said. Rural fences and vehicles suffered hail damage but there were no reported injuries.
Braun said work crews stayed in roadside ditches on Thursday afternoon diligently trying to break up the ice jams and debris that had fused together and prevented drainage.
‘We’ve got five, six-foot high icebergs along the roadway,’ Braun said. ‘If we get another rainstorm it will flood again.’
Not the first time: A storm this huge hit Texas in 1993 and left behind nearly six feet of hail
But the National Weather Service said it’s starting to clear up and should be a sunny weekend.
‘That’s a good thing since it will take a few days for that hail to melt,’ said Andrew Moulton, an NWS meteorologist in Amarillo.
Pea-sized hail, flash flooding and rain combined to form the perfect storm, but it didn’t set any records.
Scotten says the weather service doesn’t keep records of quantities of hail.
Freak of nature: The massive drift of hail appeared brown as it was covered in dust from the prolonged drought recently experienced in the area
‘This was just one of those weird storms,’ Potter County sheriff Brian Thomas told KAMR-TV.
The region isn’t unfamiliar with this kind of weather either.
A similar storm hit Dalhart, Texas, in 1993, according to Jose Garcia, the chief forecaster at Amarillo’s weather service.
He said that the five to six-foot deep hail took over a month to melt.
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