It’s Called Rain; Ever Heard of It?
Storm brings first measurable precipitation in months, but downed power lines, lightning strikes also reported
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Aug. 23, 2006 -- It's been a long time coming, but some sections of the county and city which haven't seen a rainstorm in some time finally got precipitation yesterday.

However, the showers were scattered, at best. Southern Hopkins County residents reported an accumulation of as much as 1/2 an inch of rain during the downpour which swept through the county in about an hour's time.

Other people in areas such as Northwest Hopkins County and northwest of Loop 301 in Sulphur Springs, where the official weather station is located, said they received "not even a drop" of rain.

The thunderstorm began rolling into the county before 4 p.m., and by 4:15 p.m. had reached the southern portion of Sulphur Springs, temporarily flooding the city streets and knocking down a few power lines as it blew through. Around 4:10 p.m., the National Weather Service issued a thunderstorm warning, citing a potential for damaging winds up to 60 miles per hour through 5 p.m. Tuesday. That watch expired at 5:01 p.m. when the storm advanced out of the county.

Peach Street between Davis and Georgia streets was temporarily closed during the storm due to power lines sparking and causing smoke in a tree. That situation rectified itself when the wind died down.

Downed power lines also closed North Locust Street between Main and Connally streets, and Gilmer Street at Whitworth Street and a section of College Street.

The traffic lights on South Broadway Street from Linda Drive to State Highway 154 south were also knocked out for at least 30 minutes, some longer, due to the storm. City police were staged at the intersections to direct traffic when possible.

To make matters more difficult, a vehicle stalled out during the time the traffic light was out on South Broadway and Linda Drive, requiring officers' assistance in getting it out of the roadway.

The south side of town from State Highway 11 at State Highway 154 east toward Como was without power for at last an hour and a half while TXU officials worked to restore power. Martin Springs and other areas in the southeast part of the county were also without power.

According to TXU's Randy Loyd, two main feeder lines went out almost simultaneously, one in the Martin Springs area and the other in Sulphur Springs. The wind broke large limbs off of two "off right of way pine trees" and "caused them to blow over into the line" at a different spot in Martin Springs than one day before, causing 1,061 residents from SH 11 east at SH 154 east in Sulphur Springs into Martin Springs and on into Como to be without power for 61 minutes. Another tree, not one along their lines which they try to keep trimmed but further back, fell into a line in Sulphur Springs leaving 1,500 customers without power for 57 minutes.

TXU work crews, who had just gone home for the day, were called back in, and aside from a few scattered power outages in the county, areas where only one or two homes were affected, had restored power on TXU lines by 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, according to Loyd.

Lightning strikes were reported to be responsible for two tree fires and for knocking out the Hopkins County Sheriff's Office's primary radio channel just before 5 p.m.

Hopkins County and Como firefighters responded from 4:54 p.m. to 5:56 p.m. on County Road 2431 where a tree caught fire, then spread to a small ditch.

That's when officials discovered there was a problem with the county's communications channel, when dispatchers couldn't get out on the primary channel to send officials to the fire. Officials first thought the difficulties were due to the power outage, but later learned lightning had damaged the repeater at the radio tower.

"A lightning strike to the tower took out [the sheriff’s office’s] primary [radio channel]. I went out there and started the generator. We got fire, admin[istration] and commissioners [channels] back up," said Ron Lowery, HCSO communications supervisor.

The generator was left on as the power was still out. Patrol officers for the sheriff's office were advised to use the fire channel, and firefighters were admonished to use the channel only for emergency communications.

After TXU reported the power to be restored about 8 p.m., the generator was shut off. Unfortunately, that did not restore service to the channel. When checked this morning, authorities reported that the repeater had been struck by lightning, damaging parts of it. 

The old repeater was brought in and the primary radio channel restored at about 10 a.m. today. The old repeater will continue to be used until replacement parts are installed. The new repeater is expected to be repaired by Thursday afternoon.

Hopkins County and Miller Grove firefighters also responded from 7:09 p.m. to 7:40 p.m. on FM 2653 near County Road 1120 in Miller Grove to a tree fire thought to have also been caused by lightening.

While causing a few inconveniences, the storm did drop up to half an inch of rain, which the parched earth desperately needed. But it was not enough to even lower the fire danger rating or knock the county down into a less severe drought bracket on the Keetch Byram Drought Index.

The thunderstorms did cool off the area dramatically. The daily high looked to be headed for triple digits, climbing to 97 degrees at 3:24 p.m. Just over an hour later, the temperature had dropped 16 degrees, putting the temperature at what is normally the hottest part of the day at 81. The mercury would climb no higher than 84 the rest of the day.

While chances of storms are predicted by the National Weather Service in the evenings through next Tuesday, Texas Forest Service does not anticipate any moisture received from the storms will be sufficient enough to lower the fire danger in this area.TFS continues to  urge people to heed burn bans and to continue taking precautions to prevent unintentional grass and wildland fires indefinitely.

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