Tornado Outbreak Of 1997

May 27th, 2013 at 9:29 am by under Weather

Happy Memorial Day everyone.  It may be a holiday to remember the sacrifice soldiers have made to make this country what it is.  However, today is a day to also remember a tragic day in Central Texas history.  This Memorial Day marks the 16th anniversary of the tornado outbreak of 1997, which included the F5 tornado in Jarrell.  Here is the history of what happened on May 27,1997:



In the early morning hours of May 27, a large MCS developed over Eastern Oklahoma and Western Arkansas. A “gravity wave” or outflow boundary was generated by this system and stalled out over Central Texas. This was oriented from the northeast to the southwest, causing the movement of the supercells later on to be to the southwest, along with most of the tornadoes, which is extremely unusual. Also unusual on this day was the low wind shear and extreme instability.

That incredible instability ended up spawning multiple tornadoes across the state of Texas.  Here is a list of all of the confirmed tornadoes from that unforgettable day.


20 6 6 3 3 1 1
List of confirmed tornadoes – May 27, 1997
F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
F2 W ofLorena McLennan 1821 2 miles
(3.2 km)
The tornado severely damaged several mobile homes and one frame house.
F0 N of Eddy McLennan 1844 0.2 miles
(0.32 km)
Brief tornado with no damage
F3 Moodyarea McLennan,Bell 1846 3.7 miles
(5.9 km)
It did extensive damage to trees, destroyed a house and a barn, damaged another small house, and tossed a car and a pickup truck several hundred feet.
F0 NW ofBelton Bell 1916 0.2 miles
(0.32 km)
Weak tornado with no damage
F3 W ofTemple Bell 1927 1.4 miles
(2.2 km)
The tornado caused significant damage to structures around Lake Belton. 10 homes had severe damage and 100 boats were destroyed.
F1 SW ofBelton Bell 1950 0.2 miles
(0.32 km)
Brief tornado with unknown damage
F1 N ofBlooming Grove Navarro 2005 0.5 miles
(0.8 km)
Damage limited to trees
F1 Prairie Dell area Bell 2007 2.4 miles
(3.8 km)
Damage to several structures and numerous trees
F2 SW ofPrairie Dell Williamson 2025 2 miles
(3.2 km)
First of three tornadoes touching down near the Jarrell area.
F2 W ofJarrell Williamson 2035 0.5 miles
(0.8 km)
Second of three tornadoes touching down near the Jarrell area
F1 S ofDawson Navarro 2036 0.5 miles
(0.8 km)
Damage limited to trees
F5 Jarrellarea Williamson 2040
5.1 miles
(8.2 km)
27 Deaths A weak pencil-like tornado touched down near the Bell-Williamson County line, the funnel rapidly intensified into a 3/4 mile wide multi-vortex storm at around 3:45 PM CDT. The tornado continued on before destroying and sweeping away many of the buildings in Double Creek Estates. As the tornado continued it ripped asphalt off the roads. The tornado pulled grass and soil from the ground to a depth of 18 inches (46 cm) before dissipating near a wooded area outside Jarrell.
F0 SW ofHubbard Hill 2050 0.2 miles
(0.32 km)
Brief tornado with no damage
F3 Cedar Park area Williamson,Travis 2105 9.2 miles
(14.7 km)
1 Death This tornado produced relatively minor damage before moving into Cedar Park. The tornado devastated the downtown area of Cedar Park, specifically an Albertson’s Grocery Store. The tornado then moved into the Buttercup Subdivision, severely damaging some homes. One man died here of cardiac arrest while waiting out the tornado in his pickup truck; his death was not counted in the total.
F1 SW ofAnderson Mill Travis 2115 0.2 miles
(0.32 km)
Brief tornado preceding the main Lake Travis tornado.
F4 S of Lake Travis Travis 2150 5.6 miles
(9 km)
1 Death The tornado initially caused major damage to a marina on Lake Travis. The tornado then severely damaged a reinforced concrete building containing a telephone switching center. It then completely destroyed a stone house, leaving the foundation bare. It then moved into the Hazy Hills subdivision, destroying several homes and mobile homes. This tornado killed one man while he was either blown from his mobile home or truck while attempting to seek safe shelter.
F1 Kyle area Hays 2038 3.5 miles
(5.6 km)
Damage to trees and power lines
F0 S ofUtopia Uvalde 0000 0.2 miles
(0.32 km)
Brief tornado with no damage
F0 NW ofSisterdale Kendall 0030 0.7 miles
(1.1 km)
Brief tornado with no damage
F0 E ofMoore Frio 0120 1 miles
(1.6 km)
Brief tornado in open country


Here is a brief synopsis for 3 of the strongest tornadoes that touched down that day:

F-5 Jarrell tornado

jarrell 2 jarrell 1










Initially a weak pencil-like tornado near the Bell-Williamson County line, the funnel rapidly intensified into a 3/4 mile wide multi-vortex storm at around 3:45 PM CDT.

Its first damage occurred three minutes later at 3:48 PM CDT in the northwestern portion of Jarrell striking Double Creek Estates, sweeping away the entire neighborhood. It moved to the south-west, which is unusual for tornadoes in North America. It later entered a wooded area before dissipating after damaging numerous trees.  Another unusual thing about this tornado is that there was no clear “hook echo” in the radar, which is usually visible in strong tornadoes.

Grass and soil in fields near Jarrell were ripped out of the ground to a depth of 18 in (46 cm), reducing lush fields of grass into wide expanses of mud. When the tornado crossed county roads outside Jarrell, it tore a 500-foot (152 m) length of asphalt from the roads.

About 40 structures were completely destroyed by the tornado and dozens of vehicles were rendered unrecognizable after being thrown great distances, some more than half a mile. Some of the vehicles were pulverized into many pieces and strewn across fields, and others were simply never found. A steel frame recycling plant was completely obliterated, with nothing left of the structure but the foundation and a few mangled steel beams. Telephone poles in the area were snapped off at the base and splintered, and trees in the area were completely shredded and debarked. Many researchers, after reviewing aerial damage photographs of Double Creek Estates, considered the Jarrell storm to be the most violent tornado, in terms of damage intensity, that they had ever seen.  Many of the homes in the tornado’s path were well-constructed and bolted to their foundations, but the tornado left only the slab foundations, and there was no debris left in the area.  The debris from the destroyed homes was finely granulated into small fragments, and scattered for long distances across the countyside. Several entire families were killed in the tornado, including all five members of the Igo family and all four members of the Moehring family.  The tornado’s slow movement combined with the high winds is the reason why the tornado was so destructive. The tornado also picked up a lot of loose soil, giving it a sandblasting effect on the houses. Only one person was seriously injured and less than a dozen people suffered minor injuries after the tornado, a testament to the small probability of survival in the Double Creek neighborhood. 

There were 27 human fatalities in the Double Creek subdivision. In addition, about 300 cattle were killed by the storm.

About 10 minutes prior to the main event, eye-witnesses spotted additional tornadoes north and west of Jarrell


F-3 Cedar Park Tornado

Around the same time as the Jarrell Tornado, another strong tornado formed about 30 miles south in Cedar Park.  The tornado formed about 3 miles north of the city causing widespread F-0 and F-1 damage. The tornado continued south until it reached the central business district where it did extensive damage to an Albertson’s Supermarket damaging most of the store and severely injuring one person. The manager had put majority of the customers in the walk-in freezers, saving their lives. The tornado then continued south-southwest towards the Buttercup Creek subdivision where the tornado caused damage to 136 homes, all suffering between F-1 and F-3 damage. The tornado killed one person as he waited out the storm in his truck. The tornado then continued to move more southwest and finally dissipated about 1.1 miles away from the northern shore of Lake Travis. The tornado traveled 9.2 miles and had a maximum width of 250 yards


F-4 Lake Travis Tornado

About 45 minutes after the Cedar Park and Jarrell tornadoes, another strong, violent tornado formed on the southern shore of Lake Travis. The tornado rapidly intensified to a strong F-3 tornado, causing damage to a marina on shore. Then it increased to F-4 intensity, severely damaging a reinforced building containing a telephone switch center and completely destroying a stone house, only leaving the foundation slab behind. The tornado then headed south for a brief period before turning southwest then turning west-southwest, heading towards the Hazy Hills subdivision in the Pedernales Valley in western Travis County. The tornado damaged the subdivision, causing mostly F-3 damage to 45 homes with some of those completely destroyed, showing F-4 damage. This tornado killed one person as he tried to outrun the storm. The tornado then exited the subdivision and dissipating after travelling 5.6 miles with a maximum width of 440 yards.


The F5 Jarrell tornado is ranked #10 in the top ten deadliest tornadoes in Texas history.   Here is that list:

Top Ten Deadliest Tornadoes in Texas (since 1900)


The deadliest tornado in Texas history struck shortly after 4 pm on the day after Mother’s Day in 1953. It touched down north of the town of Lorena and began moving North-Northeast toward Waco. On a radar screen at Texas A&M University, the tornadic storm developed a hook shaped echo. Nearly 1/3 of a mile wide, the massive F5 tornado crossed Waco on a path that ran almost south to north, killing 114 persons and injuring 597. It destroyed around 600 homes and other buildings and damaged over 1000, including 2000 vehicles. Some of the survivors had to wait up to 14 hours for rescue.


The second deadliest tornado in Texas killed 114 persons,the same as Waco, but is rated number two since with 250 injuries, it injured fewer people. It is believed to have touched down just before 4 pm near Berclair, about 15 miles southwest of Goliad, and moved on a track toward the northeast. About 1/8 of a mile wide, the F4 tornado crossed the San Antonio River southwest of Goliad and moved into the town. Most of the deaths occurred in the west part of Goliad, where hundreds of buildings were destroyed.


The third deadliest tornado in Texas history, like the first and second, occurred well south of what is generally considered Tornado Alley. This F5 tornado touched down 3 miles to the northwest of Rocksprings, in Edwards County, and moved toward the southeast. Nearly 1 mile wide as it crossed Rocksprings, it destroyed 235 of the 247 buildings in the town. It killed 74 people and injured 205, almost 1/3 of the population. Clearing Rocksprings, it continued southeastward at least 35 miles and perhaps as far as 65 miles.


The fourth deadliest tornado in Texas history also moved through western Oklahoma and dissipated near St. Leo, Kansas. Part of a family of deadly twisters, it touched down 5 miles northwest of Pampa and crossed just northwest of Canadian, nearly parallel to US 60. It’s funnel was reported at times to be between 1 and 2 miles wide. Just before crossing into Oklahoma, it destroyed the town of Glazier and most of the town of Higgins. It killed 17 and injured 40 in Glazier and 51 persons were killed, 232 injured in Higgins. Final totals across three states were 181 killed and 970 injured.


One of the most infamous of Texas Tornadoes, this huge F4 first touched down about 3 miles northeast of Holliday, a town lying southwest of Wichita Falls, where it damaged homes and businesses. Crossing into Wichita Falls, it severely damaged Memorial Stadium, followed by Mc Neil Junior High, and then entered the residential part of the city. It damaged a shopping center and numerous vehicles, then proceeded across US 287 where it destroyed additional vehicles. At times it was a mile and a 1/2 wide. It continued northeast from Wichita Falls, past the Red River and into Oklahoma where it dissipated north of Waurika. It killed 42 people in Wichita Falls, 25 of those deaths were vehicle related. It caused over 1700 injuries, destroyed over 3000 homes and left 20,000 homeless.


This F4 tornado touched down near Bynum, in Hill County, crossed into Navarro County east of Mertens, struck the town of Frost, where it killed at least 25 persons. Continuing toward the northeast, it caused additional deaths south of Rankin, south of Bardwell. It then crossed into Ellis County and killed citizens of Ennis. Its total death toll was 41, with over 200 persons injured.


Tornado number 7 occurred on the same day as the Frost tornado. It touched down 3 miles northwest of Kenedy in Karnes County. Moving to the east-northeast, it crossed 3 miles south of Runge and dissipated 3 miles south of Nordheim. Along its path, this F4 tornado encountered numerous weakly constructed homes and shelters that provided little safety. This is the reason for a death toll as high as 36 with 60 injuries.


Tornado number 8 formed somewhere close to the town of Zephyr, in Brown County, near midnight and destroyed large parts of the town during the early morning hours, leaving little to view except vacant lots. Not much is known of the tornado path, except that most deaths occurred in the residential areas on the south and east sides of the town. Rated an F4, the tornado damaged nearly 50 homes, 6 businesses, 2 churches, and a high school. It killed 34 and injured 70.


Tornado number 9 touched down 2 miles southwest of Saragosa in Reeves County, and moved northeastward for 3 miles. 1/2 mile wide as it crossed over Saragosa, the F4 tornado destroyed more than 80% of the town, killed 30 residents and injured 121. 22 of the deaths occurred at the Guadalupe Hall where a group had gathered for a children’s graduation ceremony. Most of these deaths were among the parents and grandparents who shielded children from the debris with their bodies.


The Jarrell tornado is the last confirmed F5 tornado in the state of Texas. This tornado followed an unusual path, moving to the south-southwest and has revived studies on the role of gravity waves on thunderstorm initiation. This storm killed 27 persons (injuring 12 more) and hundreds of cattle. More than 40 homes were completely destroyed, some of which were completely removed from their foundations.


The Lubbock tornado formed over the southwest corner of the city and touched down just south of the downtown area. It tracked toward the northeast near US 87, just east of the Texas Tech campus, and continued for 8 miles before lifting. It destroyed over 1000 homes and apartment units, 10,000 vehicles and over 100 aircraft. It killed 26 persons and injured 500. This tornado was studied and mapped in detail by Professor Fujita, and was an important key in the development of his Fujita Scale. It was rated F5 on this scale.

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