A tornado in Jarrell, Texas, destroys the town and kills nearly 30 people on this day in 1997. This F5 tornado—a rating indicating it had winds of more than 260 miles per hour–was unusual in that it traveled south along the ground; nearly all tornadoes in North America move northeast.
The storm formed just north of the capital city of Austin, Texas, in the afternoon. A cold front from the northwest collided with warm air from the Gulf of Mexico, creating a supercell, a large storm cloud formation, and towering cumulus clouds. These conditions produced 22 recorded tornadoes, beginning with one in Waco at 1:37 p.m. The Waco tornado then moved south to Lake Belton, where it demolished the marina and sank many boats.
Moving through rural Texas, the Jarrell tornado hit at 3:50 p.m., just as many students were heading home from school. The twister, almost 800 feet wide, picked up so much soil that it caused a powerful mud storm. Roofs were torn off storm shelters and water was sucked out of deep wells. There were even reports of shafts of wheat impaling cattle, and other cows being picked up, their hides stripped by the winds, before being slammed to the ground.
The tornado then slowed, becoming nearly stationary as it hit the Double Creek home development. Cars in the subdivision were reduced to rubble and homes were picked up right off their foundations. The twister simply obliterated everything in its direct path, leaving no recognizable remains. The only structure to survive was a family’s homemade shelter under their house’s foundation. One item from the neighborhood was found 100 miles away. About three quarters of the residents of Double Creek were killed. One survivor reported that she had been carried off with her house as she lay in the bathtub.