Killer Storms: The Jarrell Tornado Part 1

Almost seven years ago, one of the most violent tornadoes in Texas history swept through the small central Texas town of Jarrell.  KTRE recently made the trip to Jarrell to see how that devastating storm has changed the community.

We spoke with local resident Joyce Wilson who was an eyewitness to the storm that struck on May 27, 1997.  She described a peaceful start to the day.  Wilson said, "It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining." That would quickly change by afternoon as one of the largest tornado outbreaks in Texas history would take place.

The most violent of the tornadoes that afternoon was bearing down on Jarrell. Wilson watched from her front yard as her town was about to be destroyed. She told us, "When it got close enough, I could see the darkness back in the north and I'd walk out, look every now and then, come back and watch TV.  Then it appeared, and I got mesmerized watching it."

An F5 tornado, the strongest rating for tornadoes on the Fujita scale, was headed straight for the community of less than 500 people. "When it turned and started this way, I went to the bathroom, and listened to it tear up the house," said Wilson.  She told us what she saw once the storm had passed. "After the tornado, I came out, and I had my cell phone. I called my kids to let them know I was okay. I stepped on the porch and I couldn't believe it. It was nothing.  Nothing but debris."

The tornado had leveled 38 homes and 27 people lost their lives. Wilson described the scene, "There wasn't a tree left anywhere. It was nothing. It was just bare land."

The devastation can still be seen to this day.almost seven years later as the town continues to rebuild.  Wilson says you can never forget a storm like that, "You still wake up in the middle of the night and if there's a cloud anywhere around, you know it. I know it."