A day after being pummeled by fast-moving storms that brought softball-size hail to some areas of Denton County, residents Friday began digging through the debris and assessing the damage to their battered homes, businesses and vehicles.
Downed tree limbs and broken glass dotted the landscapes throughout much of central and north Denton County, and hundreds of vehicles sported tell-tale broken windows and dimpled hoods from the hail.
Most of the damage was caused by straight-line winds and wind-driven hail, according to Jody Gonzalez, Denton County’s emergency management director.
The National Weather Service in Fort Worth could not determine if tornadoes moved through the area, although at least four funnel clouds were reported Thursday afternoon and evening in Denton County.
Damage estimates were still being calculated, officials said.
“It’s hard to put cost assessments together when you have hail damage,” Gonzalez said.
One man was injured by a lightning strike at about 9 p.m. Thursday in Little Elm and was taken to an area hospital. His condition could not be determined Friday. A gas well tank also caught fire after being struck by lightning, but firefighters allowed the blaze to burn itself out.
The damage was caused by a series of four storm cells that moved through the county Thursday, starting at about 3:30 p.m. and continuing until about 9 p.m. Many areas of the county were hit with hail several times in the evening before the skies finally cleared.
“I have been through storms before, but nothing compared to this,” said Victor Kay, store manager at the Walmart at Rayzor Ranch Marketplace, where the store closed briefly after the hail knocked out about 250 skylights.
Thankful in Krum
Residents in Krum, one of the hardest-hit areas in Denton County, were counting their blessings Friday at a local cafe.
Tornadoes were reportedly seen in the area but none appeared to have touched down. Several barns lost their roofs in high winds but most of the damage was not severe.
“We lucked out,” said Robert Smith, who was on his way to the store Thursday when his vehicle began to be pounded by the large hail.
“It was all in the good Lord’s hands,” he said.
Smith said he tried to get out of the storm but said cars were packed under the overpass at U.S. Highway 380 and Interstate 35.
“I just pulled over and watched my pickup get clobbered,” he said.
Evidence of the storms remained Friday throughout the Krum area, however, with sections of a white picket fence knocked over in town and an uprooted tree.
Resident Jason Bragg said he was on his way back from the lake when the strongest of the supercells hit but said his wife was in town at the gym for volleyball practice.
“Her car sustained probably thousands [of dollars] in damage from the hail,” he said.
Krum Fire Chief Ken Swindle said officials will not have an estimate of the damage until next week. He urged residents to sign up for the city’s Code Red program, at www.ci.krum.tx.us, to receive mobile alerts on bad weather.
At the University of North Texas, students Thursday were herded onto lower floors as weather sirens sounded.
“Everybody was just joking about it, like ‘Hey guys, [take a] tornado selfie,’ and then ‘hashtag tornado 2014’ and stuff like that, so everyone was pretty chill about it,” said West Hall resident Rico Lopez. “But on the inside, I was kind of having a heart attack.”
Portions of the West Hall roof remained Friday on top of a Chevrolet Impala, and 14 students from six rooms had to be moved because of the damaged roof.
Piles of debris sat near a Dumpster on Friday, and a damaged car remained in the same spot where a light pole had fallen on it next to West Hall.
Lanse Fullinwider, grounds manager for UNT, said the only structural damage believed sustained during the storms was the damage to the West Hall roof, where he estimated a portion about 100 feet long and 10 to 12 feet wide was blown off. A tarp covered the area on Friday.
“I think that’s the closest a tornado has been to UNT in my 25 years here,” he said.
He said it could be Monday before the downed tree limbs and debris are completely cleaned up on campus.
Texas Woman’s University also took a beating in the storms. Windows were broken at the Blagg-Huey Library, Stark and Guinn halls and the Lowry Woods Community residence hall, and university officials estimated as many as 200 cars had hail damage. Two classroom buildings and one office building also had minor flooding, officials said.
Ariel Williams, a student who works in the library, said she rode out the storm safely in the building but her vehicle was not so fortunate.
“I [got] to my car, completely in pieces — back window, done,” Williams said. “Front window on the passenger side — I swear, if another wind came, it would shatter.”
Sherilyn Bird, dean of the library, said several windows were broken during the first round of storms. The debris was already cleaned up before the tornado warnings were issued about 6 p.m.
“We were just extraordinarily fortunate that the hail damage was not very bad at all,” she said.
The Denton school district reported only minor damage from Thursday’s storms, though officials worked to clean up the debris on Friday.
“We had minimal damage,” said Mario Zavala, a district spokesman.
The Texas Education Centers, however, suffered major damage to a skylight, roof and vehicles at the Denton school and administrative offices in the 4600 block of Interstate 35, according to Superintendent Lisa Stanley.
“We had 2 skylights knocked out, several windows and mirrors on buses broken, major roof damage to the main school building, and 13 cars (belonging to staff members and parents) with heavy damage — shattered windshields and sun roofs, hail damage,” Stanley wrote in an e-mail.
About 30 students had stayed after school for rehearsal for an upcoming musical and were on campus when the tornado warning went into effect, she said. They rode out the storm in the school library.
“We are happy that we had no injuries or further damage from the strong winds and possible tornado,” she said.
Officials with the Argyle, Ponder, Lake Dallas and Sanger school districts, Liberty Christian School and Denton Calvary Academy reported no noticeable damage. Other districts were still inspecting their facilities on Friday.
Local businesses also sustained damage, ranging from minor cracks in windows to wrecked awnings and roofs.
At the Walmart in Rayzor Ranch Marketplace, more than 200 customers and associates were moved to the back of the store when the storms moved through the area, Kay said.
The store was placed on “Code Black,” meaning everyone was moved to the safest part of the building. Kay said store workers also went into the parking lot to bring others inside.
“When we walked out, we could see what appeared to be a funnel cloud forming into a tornado behind Sam’s,” he said.
The code lasted for about three hours, he said.
“The first round knocked out many skylights with the baseball-sized hail,” Kay said. “Rounds after only made the initial damage even worse.”
But even though debris was flying everywhere, he said nobody was seriously injured.
“Only one person slipped and fell and they were treated,” he said.
Kay said 10 freight pallets of merchandise were damaged. Damage in the parking lot ranged from minor to severe, he said.
Getting down to work
Residents didn’t waste time knuckling down to get their properties in order.
At Day's Hardware on West University Drive in Denton, assistant manager Jeff Kubicek said early Friday morning that his store had already sold about $100 worth of glass for windows and some plastic wrap to people who wanted to patch up car windows.
“It’s still kind of early yet,” he said.
Staff writers Jenna Duncan, Megan Gray, Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, Bj Lewis and Britney Tabor contributed to this report.