Memorial Day storm brings deadly tornado outbreak, widespread floods

Weather

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The historic Memorial Day storm system brought more than just deadly flooding on the Blanco and San Marcos Rivers. Central Texas also saw its largest tornado outbreak in history.

They started the evening of Saturday, May 23.

“We may be seeing a tornado right over the Williamson County and Burnet County line,” Meteorologist Mark Monstrola stated during live coverage late Saturday on KXAN News.

As the rain continued falling over the next few days, tornado warnings continued to flare up.

“This is a really serious situation folks, you heard it, there is a large tornado on the ground,” Meteorologist David Yeomans said, tracking the Sandy tornado as it moved through western Blanco County on Memorial Day.

“There is debris is in the air right now being produced by this large tornado,” Jim Spencer warned, following the Milam County storm.

“[Residents in] Sandy, you’re about 12 minutes away from the heart of this storm, you need to be in a safe place at this time,” Meteorologist Rosie Newberry advised those impacted by the Blanco County storm.

Sixteen tornadoes touched down in Central Texas over the Memorial Day weekend, making it the biggest tornado outbreak in our area’s history. The strongest of the bunch, an EF-2 twister in Milam County, killed Richard Ash who was seeking shelter in a mobile home. EF-2 tornadoes contain winds of up to 135 miles per hour and are capable of completely destroying mobile home structures.

The storms that dropped tornadoes also produced record rain and massive flooding, even outside of Blanco and Hays counties.

The water started in the Hill Country, where open floodgates on Max Starcke and Wirtz dams poured billions of gallons of water into Lake Travis. Then, the slow-moving complex of storms flooded the downtown area of Austin.

Shoal Creek rose to within 2 ft. of the 1981 record flood that claimed 13 lives. No lives were lost during this flood on Shoal Creek, possibly thanks to flood control improvements and sparse rush hour traffic on the holiday.

Elsewhere, some weren’t as fortunate. Low water crossings in the metro area claimed two lives: Jerry Booth, 55, in Williamson County, and Jonathon Walker, 23, in Travis County.

Downstream, floodwaters burst the dam inside Bastrop State Park, washing away roads and land. The Colorado River swelled to more than 10 ft. above flood stage in Smithville and La Grange, inundating homes and businesses.

In all, first responders saved hundreds of lives in this flash flooding and tornado event that will surely go down in history.

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