HOUSTON – A tornado that ripped through the southeast Houston suburbs of Pasadena and Deer Park on Tuesday has been rated at least an EF-3, according to officials.
The twister prompted the National Weather Service office in Houston to issue its first Tornado Emergency after radar showed debris was being thrown into the air. Officials described it as a "large and extremely dangerous tornado" in the warning that was issued at about 2:30 p.m. Central time.
The NWS said Wednesday morning that teams surveying the damage determined the tornado was at least an EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. On Wednesday afternoon, officials said the results of additional surveys pushed the rating up to an EF-3. The tornado had winds of up to 144 mph and carved a path of destruction that was approximately 18 miles long.
Pasadena was among the hardest-hit places. A spokesman for the Pasadena Police Department said "extensive damage" has been reported to buildings on the southeast side of the city. He said no injuries have been reported, but hundreds of calls have been placed to 911, and authorities are starting to search damaged buildings.
- Image 1 of 15
- Image 2 of 15
- Image 3 of 15
- Image 4 of 15
- Image 5 of 15
- Image 6 of 15
- Image 7 of 15
- Image 8 of 15
- Image 9 of 15
- Image 10 of 15
- Image 11 of 15
- Image 12 of 15
- Image 13 of 15
- Image 14 of 15
- Image 15 of 15
The city's animal shelter sustained significant damage. Officials said a couple of dogs at the shelter were injured and are being treated. About 70 other animals were being moved to another facility to be housed.
During a news conference carried live by FOX 26 Houston, Pasadena Police Chief Josh Bruegger described the damage in the city as "catastrophic."
"In my 25 years here, this is probably the worst damage I've seen," Bruegger said.
The town of Deer Park, just to the northeast of Pasadena, also appears to have sustained damage from the tornado. A storm spotter reported lots of damage to trees, power lines, buildings and vehicles in the area. Two locomotives were also reportedly derailed, and several natural gas leaks have also been reported.
Workers at a daycare in Deer Park told FOX 26 Houston they had to move the children there to safety as the twister hit.
"They were scared," one worker said. "Everybody was kind of into a panic cause we went fast and tried to get everybody in fast, and so they were a little scared, but we talked to them, put on Cocomelon, calmed them down, and after that, everybody was pretty much OK."
In their survey, NWS officials noted that they found high-tension electrical towers that were flattened by the twister, leading them to classify it as an EF-3.
This is the strongest tornado in the Houston area since an EF-2 touched down in 2015. This also marks the first EF-3 tornado on record for Harris County, where Houston is located. However, there have been eight F-3 tornadoes in Harris County since 1950. The Fujita Scale was used to rate tornado damage prior to the EF Scale that is used now.
The NWS also confirmed two other tornadoes in the Houston area on Tuesday. One began in the town of Needville and traveled to Thompsons, just outside of Houston. The other began in the Houston suburb of Pearland and was produced by the same storm that created the EF-3 tornado. Both of the additional tornadoes were rated EF-0.
An EF-2 tornado has also been confirmed in Liberty County, near the Jefferson County line, where a home lost its roof and windows. A horse was injured by debris, according to the NWS.
The tornadic weather caused by a powerful winter storm not only created severe thunderstorms across the South but also dumped snow on a large swath of the U.S.