HOUSTON — Buckets of rain and powerful winds that likely spawned three tornadoes swept across Texas on Wednesday, causing minor flooding in some areas but not dropping enough water to make up for a historic dry spell.
The squall of storms swept from north to south, first pounding Dallas and Fort Worth overnight, flooding some streets and delaying a few flights. As the storms inched south and settled over Central Texas and Austin, record amounts of rain — more than five inches in some areas of the capital — drenched areas that just a few months ago battled the most devastating wildfires the state has ever seen.
By Wednesday morning, weather was so severe east of Austin that the Bastrop Independent School District closed schools for the day, just months after consoling students who had lost their homes and belongings in the wildfires. At least two other school districts experienced delays and closures, and one asked parents to bring their children to school after the roof of the building that houses the school buses was damaged.
As the storms marched toward Houston, at least three tornados were reported.
The National Weather Service will have to survey the damage to confirm whether it was a tornado or straight-line winds that toppled trees and power lines, damaged businesses, blew out windows, flattened barns and ruined rooftops through Washington County and downtown Brenham, a town about 60 miles northwest of Houston. No one was injured.
Another apparent tornado damaged a tire shop in Somerville, and the third was spotted in Waller County.
Still, meteorologists said Wednesday's storms would not be enough to end a drought that has parched Texas for more than a year.
"Certainly, it's not a drought-buster. We have a long way to go to dig out of a big hole," said Clay Anderson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service for the Austin and San Antonio region.
It was, however, one of the biggest rain events that some parts of the state have seen in months. A record 5.66 inches of rain dropped on the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport between midnight and early Wednesday, Anderson said. Some areas east of Austin and San Antonio got more than 9 inches of rain.
Unfortunately, though, only 4 inches of rain fell in areas that recharge aquifers that are a major source of water for Austin and San Antonio.
Even before the storms reached Houston, wind gusts of up to 50 mph brought down power lines, leaving thousands without power. An airport spokeswoman said several flights were delayed at the city's two airports because of wind, rain and tornado warnings.
Victor Murphy, a climate expert with the National Weather Service, said these storms could bring enough rain to some parts of North Texas — including Dallas and Fort Worth — to pull them out of drought conditions, but that won't be clear for another week.
But areas of South and southeast Texas that are in severe and exceptional drought will get only minor relief, Murphy said. The streams, reservoirs and lakes are too low to be refilled in one line of storms.
"It's just an improvement," he said. "This drought's too severe and too prolonged for one rain event to just end the drought, especially in areas like Houston and Central Texas."
Associated Press writers Diana Heidgerd and Schuyler Dixon in Dallas, and Will Weissert in Austin contributed to this report.