NEWS HEADLINES

Top Stories of 2013 #7: Mother Nature wreaks havoc

By Messenger Staff | Published Saturday, December 28, 2013

Summertime or not, the livin’ ain’t always easy in Wise County.

During 2013 nature’s fury raked her claws all over the region as drought continued, punctuated by tornadoes, earthquakes and ice storms.

Sixteen tornadoes touched down throughout the region on the afternoon of May 15.

One plowed across Valerie Tartaglino’s once-beautiful country home just east of Alvord before it proceeded east – leaving a swath of downed power poles and broken trees in its wake.

Several miles to the east, at a home south of Greenwood, a family returned from church Wednesday evening to discover a large metal hay barn on their property ripped to shreds. Vehicles and pieces of farm equipment were damaged, some a total loss.

While Danny Taylor’s home narrowly missed destruction, he suffered substantial property loss when a tornado ripped a 60-by-80-foot metal barn off its concrete footings. Chunks of concrete scattered like cookie crumbs as the heavy metal structure folded over onto vehicles.

Late in 2013, the earth started shaking on a regular basis. Residents living in the the area where Wise, Parker and Tarrant counties come together near the north end of Eagle Mountain Lake have experienced earthquakes on an almost daily basis – more than 30 since late November. While none were stronger than 3.6 magnitude (damage usually occurs with quakes of 5 magnitude or higher) residents are concerned they might grow stronger.

What’s also troubling is the possibility that they’re caused by human activity.

A study published this year by the Institute for Geology at the University of Texas at Austin found wastewater disposal or injection wells as a probable cause of these earthquakes.

Cliff Frohlich, associate director of the institute said the man-made earthquakes aren’t being caused by drilling for oil and gas but rather from disposing of the wastewater used in “fracking” a well. “When you inject enough fluids into a deep well, there’s always a chance to cause an earthquake,” Frolich said.

At year’s end, a Texas Railroad Commissioner was planning a town hall meeting on the subject in Azle Jan. 2.

Drought also continued to make news in 2013 as lakes declined to near-record levels.

Lake Bridgeport has dropped steadily since 2012, losing more than 15 feet over the past 20 months. At year’s end it was 20.45 feet below full pool or normal operating level. Every month but two this year showed below average rainfall amounts.

Amid the earthquakes, drought and tornadoes, the year closed with an epic ice storm that shut down highways, schools and left some motorists stranded in their vehicles for more than 24 hours.

Sleet started pelting Wise County by the afternoon of Thursday, Dec. 5. By Friday morning, 2 inches or more had fallen until a slick, icy crust covered every inch of roadway and open ground. Temperatures stayed below freezing for four days. As many as 400 vehicles got stuck between Saturday and Sunday on a stretch of U.S. 287 below Rhome, trapped between 18-wheelers that were unable to go uphill on the icy roads.

Families, truckers and even two bus loads of travelers were trapped Saturday and Sunday until Texas Department of Transportation brought in special plows to break up the ice and free the travelers.

Every school in the county was closed for four or more days, and a couple of buildings collapsed, including Boyd High School’s ag barn, under the crushing weight of the ice.

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