A powerful storm system has taken aim at the Gulf Coast of the United States on Tuesday, spawning a tornado that caused damage east of Houston, Texas, the country’s fourth most populous city.
The National Weather Service had issued a tornado emergency for that area, warning that a “large, extremely dangerous and potentially deadly tornado” was on the ground Tuesday afternoon and was headed towards Baytown, Texas, about 40km (25 miles) east of Houston. However, the warning expired as the storm system moved to the east.
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There were downed power lines and damage to homes and businesses in Baytown, but no reports of serious injuries, said the city’s spokesperson Jason Calder.
A Tornado Watch is now in effect across southeastern TX. The severe weather threat will expand eastward through the afternoon with a growing damaging wind and tornado threat.https://t.co/uNjJpziikk pic.twitter.com/JOnRzyoeTN
— National Weather Service (@NWS) January 24, 2023
Footage from Houston TV station KTRK showed damage to buildings and power lines in Pasadena, Texas, a city southeast of Houston, including doors knocked off a Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership. Several businesses suffered significant damage, including the city’s animal shelter. Nearby, fences were laid over, and shingles and sections of roofs were torn from homes, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.
A Shell Chemicals site in nearby Deer Park was flaring, or burning off natural gas, after it lost steam because of severe weather, according to Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith.
“We are taking steps to minimize any noise, light, or smoke associated with this activity, though it’s expected to continue until the units are restarted,” Smith said via email. “There is no threat to the community, nor are there any indications a nearby tornado touched down within the Chemicals facility.”
The website PowerOutage.us, which collects live power outage data from utilities across the US, reported about 123,000 Texas customers were without power Tuesday afternoon, mostly in the Houston area and surrounding counties.
It was the start of what was expected to be a stormy day along the US Gulf Coast. The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said areas along the coast from Houston to northwestern Florida could see tornadoes, strong winds and hail on Tuesday.
The storm system was also bringing snow and ice to much of the central US.
Schools and businesses were closed Tuesday and Wednesday across Oklahoma, which saw snowfall totals of 3-15cm (1-6 inches) across central and eastern parts of the state. In addition, several school districts in southwest Louisiana dismissed students early on Tuesday in anticipation of severe weather in the area.