Wave of storms soak thirsty Hill Country, set rain record in Austin

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Vehicles cross through high water accumulating on North Lamar Blvd. in downtown Austin. Storms are expected to bring as much as three inches of rain to the metro area. JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A wave of powerful thunderstorms swept across Central Texas on Friday, soaking rural areas in the Hill Country that hadn’t seen significant rain in several weeks, and dumping a record-setting amount of rain in Austin and other urban centers along the Interstate 35 corridor.

By Friday evening, the heaviest rain had subsided. The strongest storm cells had drifted east toward the Piney Woods, and a cold front knocked down temperatures by several degrees.

But the morning began with a brief round of overnight showers that already had delivered as much as 1.1 inches of rain to the Hill Country by 6 a.m., according to rain gauges monitored by the Lower Colorado River Authority.

The storms moved into western Williamson County around 8 a.m., before pummeling Austin and other cities along I-35 with heavy rain just after 9:30 a.m., when the weather service’s flood advisory went into effect.

Up to 3 inches of rain by then had fallen in some parts of the metro area. Burnet County had received as much as 2 inches of rain and at least an inch had been measured in Marble Falls and Cow Creek near Lago Vista.

The rainfall rate stunned some forecasters. Rain fell as fast as 1.3 inches in 15 minutes near Lakeway, LCRA meteorologist Bob Rose reported.

University of Texas meteorology lecturer and longtime weather broadcaster Troy Kimmel reported that Austin’s gauge at Camp Mabry recorded 1.09 inches of rain within 20 minutes.

Around 10:30 a.m., authorities started to receive reports of storm damage in the Austin area, including possible lightning-related fires and flooding:

• The Austin Fire Department said it responded to multiple weather-related calls, including “a home with light smoke” and 10 other calls about houses with water coming in, wires arcing or wires being down.

• One social media report to the National Weather Service at 10:36 a.m. observed water covering the Interstate 35 frontage road in South Austin between East Slaughter Lane and East William Cannon Drive near the Waters at Bluff Springs Apartments.

• Tarrytown residents in West Austin faced a fallen tree completely blocking Kennelwood Road.

• About 11:30 a.m., the Fire Department reported that a metal roof was blown off at Austin Mennonite Church in the Windsor Park neighborhood, but no one was injured.

Meanwhile, University of Texas police at 11:15 a.m. were warning the campus community to move their vehicles because Waller Creek was close to topping its banks near San Jacinto Boulevard.

Austin Energy crews responded to nearly 40 power outages affecting more than 300 customers around 2:30 p.m. Friday as downpours continued throughout the Austin area. Around the same time, Pedernales Electric Cooperative crews were dealing with 24 outages affecting about 272 customers.

Earlier in the day, when heavy showers and thunderstorms were sweeping through the region around 10 a.m., the total number of PEC outages had peaked at 44, affecting 3,888 customers.

Austin Energy crews handled about 90 calls for outages or hazards at their peak earlier in the morning.

The deluge Friday shattered daily rainfall records at Austin’s main weather station at Camp Mabry and at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Mabry measured 3.65 inches of rain, which broke the previous record of 2.68 inches set on this date in 2006. The airport received 2.46 inches of rain, another high that eclipsed the previous record of 1.59 inches also set in 2006.

But those readings weren’t the highest totals in Travis County: 4.08 inches of rain fell in Manor, 4.64 inches fell in San Leanna, and almost 5 inches fell in Sunset Valley.

After Friday, Austin no longer has a rain shortfall for the year. Austin now has received 9.85 inches of rain since Jan. 1, an amount that puts the city about a quarter-inch higher than normal.

Saturday’s forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with temperatures reaching about 83.

“By the way, enjoy the pleasant nighttime temperatures this weekend,” the LCRA’s Rose wrote in his weather blog Friday. “We may not see low temperatures in the 50s again until sometime next September or October.”

Highest rainfall recorded Friday, by county

4.95 inches near Sunset Valley in southwestern Travis County. 4.16 inches at North Grape Creek near Johnson City in Blanco County. 3.55 inches near Bertram in Burnet County. 3.48 inches in Liberty Hill in Williamson County. 3.26 inches near Dripping Springs in Hays County. 1.62 inches near Camp Swift in Bastrop County. 0.64 inch near Lockhart in Caldwell County.

Source: Lower Colorado River Authority

Highest winds recorded Friday, by county

47 mph near Dripping Springs in Hays County at 10 a.m. 45 mph at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport at 10:42 a.m. 38 mph near San Marcos Regional Airport in Caldwell County at 10:39 a.m. 34 mph near Bertram in Burnet County. 32 mph near Blanco at 8:57 a.m. in Blanco County. 31 mph at Georgetown Municipal Airport in Williamson County at 9:11 a.m. 30 mph near Camp Swift in Bastrop County at 1:08 p.m.

Source: National Weather Service

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