An evening of storm sirens Tuesday foreshadowed the extensive damage Denton workers and residents were faced with Wednesday morning.
National Weather Service meteorologists confirmed that a tornado did briefly touch down in Denton north of the Texas Woman’s University campus before traveling northeast, almost reaching the intersection of North Loop 288 and Sherman Drive (FM428).
The sounds of chain saws and wood chippers filled the air block after block Wednesday in the neighborhood known as Idiot’s Hill, much of which was directly in the tornado’s path.
Downed electrical lines were secured to telephone poles with tape or left to dangle. At least one house was severely damaged by a fallen tree, and many others were narrowly spared.
A Lexus was pinned beneath a tree. At one residence, electrical wires arced and caused a small fire. Fences were destroyed throughout the area.
Matt Bishop, a meteorologist with the weather service, said the tornado was categorized as an EF1, with winds up to 90 mph and moderate storm damage. The Enhanced Fujita scale measures tornadoes’ strength from 0 to 5, with 5 being the most devastating.
Residential customers in the northeastern part of Denton most severely affected by the storm can bring debris to the landfill at 1527 S. Mayhill Road for free disposal through Saturday, according to a city news release.
Beginning next week, curbside collection will be available at no cost through the city’s solid waste department. Pickups can be scheduled by calling 940-349-8700.
Even though a tornado touched down just north of campus, the TWU campus didn’t suffer any damages.
No buildings suffered storm damage or flooding, said Matt Flores, a spokesman for the university. Students in dormitories and on campus were warned to take cover at 7:03 p.m. Tuesday, and were given an all-clear by TWU Emergency Management around 8 p.m. once the storm passed. No injuries were reported, Flores said.
The only damage on campus was five downed trees on the north side of campus, on the former TWU golf course.
“We’re very fortunate,” he said. “We hate to lose trees because they were pretty big trees, but losing five trees isn’t that bad in the scheme of things.”
The Denton Natatorium was closed Wednesday morning following storm damage there and at the adjacent Water Works Park, located at the northern end of the tornado’s path. Debris from trees and outdoor furniture were scattered across the water park Tuesday night. Workers spent much of Wednesday cleaning up the area and performing maintenance following a power outage.
Denton Fire Department officials responded to 37 calls between 5:45 and 9:15 p.m. Tuesday. Included in those calls were one lightning-related structure fire and a few water rescue calls from stranded motorists.
Denton police said 21 officers, four supervisors and three public safety dispatchers worked overtime until 10:30 Tuesday.
Police Chief Frank Dixon said the city did a good job in responding to the damage left by the storm. He said officers responded to about 111 calls between 6 p.m. Tuesday and 6 a.m. Wednesday. Officers and dispatchers on the day shift were held over into the night dealing with calls.
“At one point almost every officer in the city was tied up on calls,” Dixon said Wednesday afternoon.
He said the community was fortunate not to have any injuries from the tornado. But he reminded that Denton’s not out of the woods yet. There is still bad weather in the forecast into the weekend.
“Don’t rely on how lucky we were,” Dixon said.
And he added that people should resist the natural tendency to want to survey the damage immediately following a storm. First responders in parts of the city on Tuesday night had to work around people who were out looking at the damage.
“We would always recommend people stay out of the affected areas,” Dixon said.
Idiot’s Hill suffers the worst
People flocked to the 700 block of Roberts Street on Wednesday. Some parked along the curb and took pictures. Others glided past and ogled the damage through closed car windows. Some simply stood and stared, marveling at what a few minutes of really strong winds can do.
Jacqueline Jackson wasn’t home when a tree fell on her house, crashing through the roof above her bedroom and leaving a gaping hole in the front of the building.
She rents the home and isn’t sure if she’ll be able to continue to live there in the near future.
A special education teacher at Krum High School, Jackson was working with a homebound student in Krum when the storm started to gain strength Tuesday evening.
When she was finishing up around 6:30 p.m., the student’s parents recommended she stay put for a while to stay safe.
“So I stayed 30 extra minutes, otherwise I’d have been here,” Jackson said in front of her home. “I said, ‘The good Lord is looking out for me.’ I feel like his hands of protection were keeping me from this house for some reason.”
Fortunately, her daughter, Suzanne Fleenor, was around the corner baby-sitting on Greenwood Drive, which saw relatively little damage.
Jackson’s three pets were in the home when the tree fell. Duke the dachshund, Dolly the golden retriever and Rick the Siamese cat were all unharmed.
Frank Early was one neighbor to stop by to look over the damage. He said he’s lived in a house down the street since 2008, but he’s never seen a storm as bad as Tuesday’s.
Once, during a particularly bad storm several years ago, Early said he took shelter with his dog in a crawlspace beneath the house.
Nothing much happened during that storm, so Tuesday he thought, “I’m not going to go hang around with the spiders and the mold and the mildew,” he said.
He added in retrospect: “I probably should have gotten under there last night.”
Fortunately, he said his home didn’t have anywhere near the damage he was seeing elsewhere.
Despite the widespread damage in the area, it paled in comparison to that on Edgewood Place and Northwood Terrace about a third of a mile away.
Within one-tenth of a mile, hardly a home was spared some sort of damage. A car was pinned beneath a tree across the street from several other fallen trees. Branches and leaves covered the streets, sidewalks and lawns.
Ann Boodt was in the area dealing with the damage to her mother’s home.
Unlike the scene at several other homes, no work crews were sawing tree trunks and no heavy machinery was being driven up and down her driveway. Two volunteers, Randall Beshara and Jon Piekutowski, were working with an ax and handsaw to clear away much of the damage.
Beshara said he heard there were a lot of people who could use some help, and that he hadn’t checked a clock since he got there to see how long it had been. He’d been working nonstop for more than two hours.
Denton City Council member Keely Briggs, whose district includes most of the damaged neighborhoods, was seen walking the streets with Mayor Chris Watts on Wednesday morning, Boodt said.
Briggs posted frequent storm updates Tuesday and Wednesday to her Facebook page.
Just as Bishop and Dixon said, Denton isn’t in the clear for now. The potential for isolated tornadoes, heavy thunderstorms and large hail will be present in patches through Friday.
Bishop, the meteorologist, said quarter- to golf ball-sized hail is possible in Denton beginning around 8 p.m. Thursday.
“For whatever reason, it just seems that the Denton area along [U.S. Highway] 380 is always kind of under the gun with hail,” Bishop said. “But that might just be a recent — last few years — thing.”
While he doesn’t want to rule it out, Bishop said it looks like Denton won’t face a storm as severe as Tuesday’s in the next couple of days.
In anticipation for severe storms across North Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday afternoon the deployment of state resources in the form of water rescue boats, helicopters, ambulance buses and more to the region.