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‘Catastrophic’ Tornado Sweeps Houston Area As Winter Storm Pummels Eastern U.S.

Topline

An apparent tornado passed through southern parts of the Houston metro area Tuesday afternoon and caused extensive damage, marking the biggest impact so far of a massive storm system bringing inclement weather to much of the eastern half of the country.

Key Facts

The scope of the tornado’s damage remains unclear, but some of the hardest-hit places appear to be in the cities of Pasadena and Deer Park, southeast of downtown Houston.

Authorities in Pasadena have been “inundated” by 911 calls as they respond to building collapses and gas leaks, with an official telling the Houston Chronicle damage there is “just catastrophic.”

The tornado caused a “structure collapse” at a nursing home in Deer Park, according to a tweet from a local fire department, which reported an ambulance had been sent to the facility.

The only confirmed injuries so far took place at the Pasadena Animal Shelter, where one person and two dogs were hurt, Mayor Jeff Wagner said.

Surprising Fact

Houston’s National Weather Service office issued a “tornado emergency” alert for the storm Tuesday afternoon, a designation that is rarely used and reserved only for situations where forecasters believe there is a “severe threat to human life” and “catastrophic damage is imminent or ongoing.” The severity of the tornado—including a peak wind estimate—will be determined in a post-storm assessment.

Key Background

Severe weather moving through Houston and the South is just one component of a “multi faceted” storm system associated with a cold front that is sweeping across the eastern United States. Heavy snow is the biggest concern on the north side of the storm, which the National Weather Service expects will bring “widespread snowfall accumulations” of 4-8 inches in an area extending from Oklahoma northeastward to New England, with some likely experiencing even higher accumulations. Heavy snow has already started in the Southern Plains and parts of the lower Midwest, and is expected to push into the upper Ohio Valley and Northeast on Wednesday before pulling away from the U.S. on Thursday. Both the winter and severe weather components of the system are likely to result in power outages, in large part due to gusty winds.

Tangent

New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., are in the midst of a historic “snow drought,” which has left the cities without any accumulating snow so far this season. Forecasters over the weekend expected the streak to end with this storm, but recently revised predictions to say accumulating snow is now unlikely. Snow is expected to fall in New York City on Wednesday, but temperatures should be too warm for flakes to stick to the ground. The city’s January 29 record of all-time latest measurable snowfall now appears in danger of falling.

Further Reading

Live weather updates: LaPorte refinery had to conduct ‘controlled shutdown’ because of storms (Houston Chronicle)

D.C., Philly and New York have seen no snow this winter. What’s going on? (Washington Post)


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