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20 years later: Remembering the Jarrell, Cedar Park, Lakeway tornadoes

May 27, 2017 - 12:47 pm

(KJCE) 20 years ago today, one of the deadliest severe weather outbreaks to hit Central Texas unfolded - including the only F5 tornado ever recorded in the Austin metro.

May 27, 1997 is a day that many in Jarrell, on the northern edge of Williamson County, will never forget. That's where an F5 tornado - reported to have winds in excess of 260 miles an hour - ripped through the Double Creek Estates subdivision just after 3:45 p.m. that afternoon, killing 27 people and leaving nothing but bare foundations behind in its wake. Meteorologists with the National Weather Service noted that the twister - reported to be nearly three-quarters of a mile wide at its peak - ripped asphalt off of roadways, completely stripped the bark off of trees, and left little in the way of large debris of any size. Several cars were identified from the air, lying in open areas, flattened and encrusted with mud and grass. Nearly 300 cattle grazing in a pasture near the subdivision were also killed, with many of them tossed and blown for over a quarter of a mile.

To the southwest of Jarrell, another tornado hit Cedar Park a few minutes later at 4:05 p.m. - this one ranking as an F3, with winds up of 160 miles an hour - skirting a residential area before striking a grocery store, where the roof was torn off. A quick-thinking store manager gathered customers and employees into the store's meat locker, which meteorologists say probably saved several lives. No one was killed in the Cedar Park tornado.

Finally, the Lakeway area was struck by an F4 tornado - beginning on the shores of Lake Travis and stretching into the Hazy Hills subdivision, where a number of homes and structures were destroyed. One man who lived in a mobile home was killed; his home was demolished and his vehicle had been tossed several hundred feet by the storm.

All in all, 10 tornadoes formed across South Central Texas that Tuesday afternoon.

The National Weather Service has put together a look back at the events of the day, which you can view on their website here.

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