A tornado tossed trees into homes, tore off storefronts and downed power lines but killed no one in a densely-populated area of Dallas, leaving Mayor Eric Johnson to declare the city “very fortunate” to be assessing only property damage.
The late-night storms spawned tornadoes in several states, killing at least four people in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
A meteorologist said on Monday that people took shelter thanks to early alerts and that it was fortunate the tornado struck on Sunday evening when many people were home.
“Anytime you have a tornado in a major metropolitan area, the potential for large loss of life is always there,” said Patrick Marsh, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
“We were very fortunate that the tornado did not hit the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium or the State Fair, where you would have had a lot of people that were exposed.
“If that happened at rush hour, I think we’d be talking about a different story,” he said.
The National Weather Service said the tornado that ripped through north Dallas was an EF3, which has a maximum wind speed of 225 kilometres per hour (140 miles per hour). The agency said another tornado in the suburb of Rowlett was EF1, with maximum wind speeds of 160km/h (100 mph).
At a nearby shopping centre, the fronts and roofs of stores were ripped away. Ruptured pipes were still spewing water Monday morning, drenching the piles of mangled drywall, insulation and steel framing inside the brick building.
The tornado that caused widespread damage in north Dallas passed close to the home of former President George W Bush and former first lady Laura Bush but caused no damage. Bush spokesman Freddy Ford said in a statement that “the Bushes are safe and praying for their neighbors around DFW who weren’t as fortunate”.
Tornadoes are not common in October, and cities are rarely hit because they do not have a big footprint in the tornado belt, according to tornado scientist Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storms Laboratory.
It’s like “randomly throwing darts,” Brooks said.
A study by Brooks last year found that only one-third of the most violent tornadoes hit communities of more than 5,000 people.
The storm system disrupted flights in the Dallas area, northwestern Arkansas and at Memphis International Airport in Tennessee, where windows were broken.
The Storm Prediction Center said severe thunderstorms could continue through Monday night along the Gulf Coast from southeastern Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, with damaging winds and a couple of tornadoes possible.