NWS: 2 tornadoes ripped through southeast Williamson County

Crews flipping each overturned car of a Union Pacific train toppled over by severe storms (KXAN Photo/ Todd Bailey)
Crews flipping each overturned car of a Union Pacific train toppled over by severe storms (KXAN Photo/ Todd Bailey)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The National Weather Service says two tornadoes swept through southeast Williamson County late Sunday night into Monday morning damaging approximately 20 to 30 homes near Thrall and Noack. The storm even blew over several railcars of a Union Pacific train off the tracks.

The National Weather Service surveyed the damage Monday afternoon and while the report hasn’t been finalized, the agency says initial information indicates two small tornadoes formed along the same area, both with a preliminary EF-2 rating (111-135 mph winds). The Thrall tornado was on the ground for 9.4 miles and was 200 yards wide, with estimated peak winds at 118 mph.

What’s being called the Noack tornado traveled for 4.2 miles, starting southwest of Thrall and ending 1 mile south-southeast of Thrall. It had estimated peak winds at 112 mph.

Additional damage was found 2 miles northwest of Thrall to 2 miles north of town. It was determined that damage was caused by straight-line thunderstorm winds between 118-138 mph. At least 10 homes were significantly damaged or destroyed, three RVs were rolled, and two people suffered minor injuries in one of them.

The Williamson County Office of Emergency Management says the majority of the damage was done to barns, outbuildings, windows, roofs and cars.

Larry Robbins lost the roof off his car port, and his neighbor’s roof ended up in his yard, which sits along County Road 427, east of downtown Thrall. He and his wife were away for the weekend when the storm hit, but his brother-in-law who lives next door gave him warning over the phone. “(He said) you’re going to be coming home to something that looks similar to a war zone, but it’s a little more than I anticipated,” explains Robbins.

Robbins’ brother-in-law’s barn next door was also destroyed. “At one point last night they thought about maybe going in there for safety but they said they couldn’t make it and I said well I’m glad you didn’t make it,” explains Robbins.

The Thrall school campus was also damaged during the storm, but the campus was already closed on Monday for President’s Day. The district says school is still scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. on Tuesday.

The train that derailed was along U.S. Highway 79 between Thrall and Thorndale. Union Pacific officials tell KXAN News that 12 “Auto Rack” hauler cars were derailed during the storm. Crews worked throughout the night using cranes to right the cars and hope to have the track reopened for train traffic by Monday evening.

Auto racks can carry between 10 and 15 cars; there were vehicles inside the derailed cars. The train was headed north from Laredo to St. Louis.

Several homes and a church along County Road 445 between Taylor and Thrall were damaged. Twisted metal from shredded silos scattered across a farmer’s property on CR 445 near Noack. The cleanup will continue for days and emergency responders have a message for the curious who want to get close to all the damage. “Our urge is for folks to stay home, let us get out there to remove the hazards, get the power company to remove the hazards, before they go out and get curious and potentially get themselves into a bind,” said Chief Mark Moellenberg with the Thrall Volunteer Fire Department.

Anyone needing a place to stay after the severe storm can contact the Red Cross Austin number at (512) 928-4271.

Power is still out in Thrall and surrounding areas. Oncor is working to restore power, but says they do not have an estimate when the restoration will be complete.

The National Weather Service is expected to issue its final report by Tuesday, to officially confirm that two tornadoes touched down in Williamson County.

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