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Weather Blog: Possible tornado touches down near Cleveland

by Gene Norman / KHOU 11 News

Posted on October 12, 2011 at 8:30 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 29 at 9:49 PM

A strong storm with hail and high winds and a possible tornado hit along the San Jacinto/Liberty county border just after 5 p.m. Wednesday.  I had just finished the 5 p.m. newscast, when a call came in from one of our freelance photographers in Liberty County who heard about downed trees and power lines just north of Cleveland.  After looking at the data, I think it's possible that a small, brief tornado indeed struck.

Just after 4 p.m., a line of storms began developing east of Walker County, slowly drifting southeast into San Jacinto county, just below Lake Livingston.  As I was watching these storms on HD Doppler, something caught my eye -- the lightning count began increasing.  Of  particular interest - the quick spike in the positive lightning count.  This is lightning emanating from the top of a storm and some research indicates that a sharp increase could be a precursor to severe weather:

Even though there wasn't a lot of lightning, the sharp increase coincides with large hail detected on HD Doppler at the same time:

Examining the wind structure from HD Doppler, there was a small area of rotation near FM 2025, where a number of trees fell:

One of the things I look for in the wind pattern are opposing wind patterns.  Dark green indicates winds coming toward the radar and red indicates wind moving away from the radar.  You add the amounts together (ignoring the minus sign) to estimate the total wind speed.  At first glance 20 mph doesn't seem very strong.  But remember, the beam is about 18,000 feet off the ground at this point, so the rotation would be stronger closer to the ground.  Based on the downed trees, the speeds could have been at least 70 mph. 

This storm then knocked a tree onto a travel trailer, injuring a woman inside about 10 miles southeast of Cleveland.  Here are pictures of the damage and the woman being life-flighted to the hospital; no word yet on her condition:

This strong storm was part of a line of storms forming ahead of a cold front which arrives Thursday morning.  While there may be a few showers overnight, strong storms aren't likely with the absence of daytime heating.  Drier air moves in Thursday and Friday and Saturday morning, we'll awake to temperatures in the 50s!

The National Weather Service will conduct a damage survey to assess the kind of damage to formally declare this a tornado or just straight line winds.  Based on the data I've seen, I suspect this could be declared a tornado.  We'll let you know what they find Thursday.

Get the latest updates tonight on 11 News at 10 p.m.