A severe thunderstorm that blasted through west Texas on Tuesday was so powerful that it caused dozens of freight train cars to derail, according to officials.
Thunderstorms that roared near Colorado City generated straight-line winds that derailed the train and snapped multiple powerline poles, the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Midland, Texas, said on Wednesday.
The storms moved through northeastern Mitchell County just before 7 p.m. Tuesday, with “significant” damage seen 3 miles east of Colorado City.
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The NWS said a storm survey team found five snapped powerline poles along the frontage road of Interstate 20 and a derailment of 86 cars less than a mile south of the interstate.
“Due to the wind speed threshold of the train cars and powerline poles, the survey team estimated peak wind speeds to be between 80-100 mph,” the NWS said.
All of the damage was oriented facing the north, which indicated a “large swath” of straight-line winds.
In the eastern part of Mitchell County, forecasters said a cotton field 9 miles southeast of Colorado City near Lake Champion was damaged in a separate storm in the area an hour later.
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The other severe thunderstorm had straight-line winds between 65 and 70 mph, and toppled a center pivot irrigation system, which was approximately 750 feet long.
Similarly, in Kansas last year, severe thunderstorms generated straight-line winds that caused two trains with more than 100 cars to derail.
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According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), straight-line winds are any thunderstorm wind that’s not associated with rotation and is used to differentiate from wind damage related to a tornado.
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Straight-line winds are a common cause of wind damage from a thunderstorm, according to the NWS.
“They can reach over 100 mph and are caused by air being dragged down by precipitation,” the agency states. “When the air reaches the ground, it spreads outward across the surface of the land it encounters in a straight line.”