How weather may have affected airborne chemical dispersion after the West, TX explosion

April 18th, 2013 at 1:26 pm by under Weather
The explosion has leveled buildings for blocks in every direction. Al Vanek, a city council member, says a four-block area around the explosion "is totally decimated." (KXAN.com)

The explosion has leveled buildings for blocks in every direction. Al Vanek, a city council member, says a four-block area around the explosion “is totally decimated.” (KXAN.com)

A powerful cold front swept through central Texas early this morning bringing soaking rains, strong winds, and impacting disaster response and chemical dispersion from the explosion in West, TX.

The cold front with associated showers and thunderstorms swept through West, TX around 6:15 this morning. Before the front passed, winds had been from the south all morning in Waco at up to 25 miles per hour. This likely acted to send any smoke and airborne byproducts of the chemical explosion to areas north of the blast.

After the frontal passage, heavy rain soaked the site of the disaster as winds swung around to the north-northwest. The rains likely aided in any ongoing firefighting efforts, and may have limited the dispersion of any airborne byproducts of the explosion as well.

Anhydrous ammonia is the chemical that was stored in mass quantity in the West plant. The explosion likely broke apart most of this chemical into different compounds, however the rain was good news for any airborne ammonia that still existed. The chemical is by nature ‘hydrophilic’ (water soluble), as opposed to ‘hydrophobic’. This property of the chemical means that falling rain would mix with any airborne ammonia, in essence attaching the chemical to the raindrop and removing it from the air.

Thus, the heavy rain event coming a relatively short time after the massive explosion likely dampened further spread of any airborne chemicals that may have been released.

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