Wednesday storm packs punch with high winds

Published 5:22 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Gwen Woffard had quite a shock Wednesday morning when, in the middle of a thunderstorm, she heard a loud noise and went into her living room to investigate.

When she didn’t readily determine the noise’s origin, she headed back to the bedroom.

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“That’s when all the stuff in the living room started caving in,” she said.

She had no idea what happened, but surmised a limb might have fallen off the big oak tree outside the Wilson Street home she shares with her husband Willard.

It was not until her two sons, who work at nearby Total, arrived that she learned the noise had come from something much larger than a limb.

“They told me the entire tree had been uprooted and was resting across the bedroom and living room,” she said.

Luckily, that’s all it did, Willard Woffard said.

“It had to have been some pretty high winds because this tree has gone through Ike and Rita and was still standing,” he said.

That was true until early Wednesday when a strong upper level disturbance moved through Southeast Texas about 7 a.m. with winds high enough to uproot trees and down power lines in many communities.

Entergy Texas reported about 46,000 outages across the region from the storm.

Mid-morning Wednesday the electric utility’s website indicated 4,421 people in Jefferson County did not have electricity. Of those, 1,432 Entergy customers in Port Neches were without power, 968 in Nederland, 944 in Groves and 119 in Port Arthur.

Debi Derrick, Entergy spokesperson, said the hardest hit areas were in Montgomery County, Conroe and The Woodlands. Silsbee was also hit hard by the storm.

Peak outages across the company’s service area occurred around 7:15 a.m. when 47,202 customers were without power.

“We do anticipate some customers will be without power overnight, but that can only be determined once assessments of the damage is made,” Derrick said.

Peak wind speeds at the Jack Brooks Regional Airport measure gusts up to 53 mph, Todd Mogged, forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Lake Charles office, said.

Nearby China, Texas had winds gusting to 62 mph and Jasper 54 mph. Beaumont also saw wind gusts at 53 mph. Twenty miles offshore south of Sabine Pass wind gusts reached 79 mph.

“Woodville and up in that area go the brunt of it this morning, Mogged said.

Locally, Groves seemingly had the most damage of the Mid-and South-County cities.

“We had several trees fall at the roots, but as far as we know, no one was injured,” City Manager D. Sosa said.

In addition to the old oak at the Woffard’s home, Sosa said another large tree fell across Tyler Street blocking the road. Another fell from school property across the street and into a neighbor’s yard.

“I was watching the radar and just a little bit before 7 we had the outer edge of a sever thunderstorm come through Groves, way more wind than rain,” Sosa said. “Even with the ground wet from recent rains, the wind had to be at least 60 mph to uproot those trees. The tree acts like a big sail when it catches the wind.”

Sosa said Groves residents with small debris such as twigs— not more than enough that would fit in a bushel basket — could use regular trash containers.

The city’s garbage trucks could run extra shifts, depending on the amount of larger debris residents need to dispose of, Sosa said.

By Wednesday at press time most of the outages in Jefferson County were restored, though an area of Nederland remained without power.

“We had a lot of debris, garbage cans knocked over and such, but mainly had issues with losing power,” City Manager Chris Duque said. “I still don’t have electricity at my house, but they are working on it.”

Jefferson County Justice of the Peace Brad Burnett’s office on Viterbo Road was among those without power Wednesday.

The lack of electricity did not stop the wheels of justice, however.

As soon as the storm passed and the skies began to clear, the court moved outside.

“No power, no computers, no telephones, no problem. We went ahead and administered justice,” Burnett said.

In all, Burnett presided on eight cases outdoors Wednesday.

Port Neches and Port Arthur also saw small limbs down and had power outages, but no significant damage.


Twitter: sgsturdivant