Accounts are conflicting, but if National Weather Service reports are correct, the mile-wide tornado that ripped through the Texas countryside last night was one enormous storm. Various spotters and storm chasers reported seeing a massive vortex scraping across the grounds outside of Dallas on Sunday around 10 p.m. local time, but while the rolling storm system produced several smaller off-shoots, the massive Rio Vista twister was possibly the most frightening because very few people actually spotted it amidst the rain and dark backdrop. Luckily, no one on the ground was injured.
The wall of extreme weather barreling through the region did more than enough damage of its own, of course. The storm uprooted trees and pummeled cars and homes with softball sized hail, cutting power to nearly 30,000 before moving east into the countryside, Emergency Management official Jamie Moore told NBC reporters on Monday. Analysts were still on the ground by midday, trying to decipher the full magnitude of the damage left in its wake. As the day wore on, eyewitness accounts of the harrowing evening — including photos of the massive Rio Vista cell — began trickling in.
The enormous tornado "was about a mile wide when it was first spotted," Moore said. One extreme weather photographer, Ryan Shepard of Greeley, Colorado, was on the scene as the black clouds began rolling in and reported "numerous power flashes" and "strong tornadic signature on radar" on his Facebook page.
"When a storm has a lot of heavy rain wrapped around, it curtains the tornado," explained meteorologist Bob Henson of the University Corporation of Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, in an interview with Live Science in 2011. Worse still, if local storm spotters are unable to detect the presence of a funnel cloud within that rain band, they can't relay the information back to weather centers, which rely heavily on on-the-ground, minute-by-minute reports from chasers and radio operators. Those in the path of the storm might think themselves safe as the rain and hail die down, only to be ambushed then by the ensuing vortex that follows.
Thankfully, because of the location of the Rio Vista tornado, no one was taken by surprise. Many social media users even managed to capture some stunning and frightening footage of the evening:
A few even got a little too close for comfort:
Much of the South remained under severe weather watch on Monday, but the threat of another massive tornado had died down considerably. Images: YouTube screengrab