Tornadoes, heavy snow rumble through Texas

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Associated Press

Posted on December 26, 2012 at 6:05 AM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 26 at 11:02 AM

HOUSTON (AP) — A strong storm system that moved across Texas on Christmas Day spawned at least three tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, heavy snow and brisk winds that knocked down trees, killing one person near Houston.

More than 20,000 customers in the Houston area were without power — down from a previous estimate of more than 70,000 — and nearly 20,000 more lost power in parts of East and Central Texas.

By mid-afternoon, the tornado and thunderstorm warnings had ended as the storm system moved into Louisiana. But as the cold front dipped southward, heavy snow began to fall in North Texas, including in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Freezing temperatures were even forecast for parts of deep South Texas by nightfall.

Snow was falling at a rate of an inch to 1.5 inches an hour in parts of North Texas along the Oklahoma border on Tuesday afternoon, said Greg Carbin, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center.

"There is a band across a few counties up there in North Texas where it looks like it will snow pretty heavily," he said.

Visibility at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport was down to a half-mile, and in downtown Dallas, visibility was at a quarter-mile.

Carbin said forecasters had initially expected about one to two inches of snow in those areas, but snow was falling more quickly than had been expected.

"They could be in the band for a few more hours ... maybe 3 to 6 inches," Carbin said. "It looks pretty interesting."

During the severe weather earlier Tuesday, Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Thomas Gilliland said a 25-year-old man died after winds knocked a tree onto his Ford F-150 pickup truck. The incident occurred around 9:40 a.m. in northwest Harris County, he said.

At least two tornadoes — products of the cold front colliding with the warm Gulf air — touched down in East Texas in Trinity and Houston counties, Carbin said Tuesday. Initial reports said no one had been injured, but at least one building in Crockett had been damaged.

Beaumont police and Carbin said a third tornado was spotted in Beaumont, but did not cause any damage. Downed trees and small hail were reported in East Texas.

"That's what it takes is that contrast between the cold very dry air and the warm moist air that is readily available or at least never far away from the Texas Gulf Coast," Carbin said.

At the storm system's peak, 21 counties in Texas, including the city of Houston, were under a tornado watch.

Centerpoint Energy listed on its website that more than 20,000 customers remained without power in the Houston area just before 4 p.m. Entergy reported on its website that nearly 20,000 of its customers in East and Central Texas, as well as parts of Louisiana, were without power.

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Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey contributed to this report from New Orleans.

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Plushnick-Masti can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RamitMastiAP

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