By David Clute
Severe thunderstorms rumbled through the area on Saturday, April 13, causing widespread damage from near Calvert up to Jewett and Buffalo. Franklin was the hardest hit as a tornado that had formed near the community of Elliot traveled north and made a direct impact on the south side of town. As many as 55 structures, including homes, four businesses, one church, a duplex and part of the local housing authority were destroyed by the EF3 tornado that hit the town before noon, according to Robertson County officials. County Judge Charles Ellison said about half of the south side of Franklin was “totally destroyed.” The National Weather Service ranks tornados from EF1 to EF5 with an EF3 measuring at least 100 mile per hour winds. Wind speeds in Franklin were estimated to exceed 140 miles per hour.
The storm, moving at roughly 40 miles per hour, then proceeded north following Highway 79, and although it did lose some strength, there was considerable tree damage as far as the Navasota River. Preliminary reports on Saturday tracked the tornado to Marquez and later Jewett and Buffalo. Trees littered roads just south of Marquez causing some closings while Marquez VFD and numerous volunteers worked to clear the debris.
Jewett was spared a direct hit when strong storms, possibly the same tornado, struck just east of town. Areas around County Roads 360, 362 and 363 sustained the most damage. While the destruction was mostly tree damage, some homes and structures received damage from high winds. Trees were uprooted or snapped in half as the tornado bounced through the area just off of Sandbanks Road. Flea Market weekend was in full swing when the storm passed a few miles from town. Some of the shelters at the market were tossed when high winds passed through the town.
The storm continued through rural areas between CR 360 and the southern part of Buffalo where it struck a electrical transformer array and caused damage to at least two homes. The tornado seemed to lift at Interstate 45.
The National Weather Service on Saturday mapped the tornado from north of Hearne all the way to Buffalo. On Sunday the service revised their map saying the tornado actually ended south of Marquez. However, home and property owners near Jewett and Buffalo feel sure that what came through the area was a tornado. The Weather Service noted on Sunday that additional damage assessments will be completed in the coming days and a full report will be available this week.
This round of storms marks the second week in a row that Leon and surrounding areas have been under either a severe storm watch or warning. Another round of storms is expected near the middle of this week.