What happened last Friday?

A dusty storm Friday October 23, 2020 moves across our area. Photo from Gwendolyn Berry
A dusty storm Friday October 23, 2020 moves across our area. Photo from Gwendolyn Berry

You may have started last weekend windy and dusty. I got this email from a Cypress viewer:

“Friday around 3 pm we had a wind storm--well, mostly sand storm. Wind was blowing, I want to say, around 60 mph and it was like a dust storm, then some heavy rain. Do you have any idea why we had a dust storm? First time it has ever happened here. Patricia L.”

I certainly can. Look, first, at the synoptic maps from Friday morning to Friday afternoon and look at the placement of that cold front from north of Dallas (in Denton) to the coast in just ten hours. That’s 350 miles in ten hours or 35 miles per hour!

Friday morning, 8am, October 23rd, front is in Denton
Friday evening, 6pm, October 23rd, front is past Galveston!

So, for a front to move consistently that quickly, wind obviously is pushing it. IAH maxed out at winds of 40 mph, Hobby 41 mph, Conroe 35 mph, Tomball 31 mph, Pearland 30 mph and Galveston 25 mph. So there’s the wind and I wouldn’t be surprised if Cypress had gusts to 50 mph.

Why? The temperature contrast. The cold front that came through was indeed cold (Dallas had a high of only 74°) and before the front arrived we had our highest temperatures all week at 91°. That means the hot air went quickly upward over the cool air causing it to release its energy and come BACK toward the surface as cold, rushing air. So the gusts were impressive along with the clouds. Look at this Click2Pin from shand12 in League City!

League City Clouds last Friday

That wasn’t a rotating funnel but sure looked like one (just scud clouds), and so did this from West U Rob in Texas City:

This had no rotation, what we call a scud cloud, but looks like a funnel!

As for the dust, the front was indeed a dry front for the most part. Dallas had almost an inch of rain, but we had hardly more than a quarter to a half-inch. So we got Oklahoma dust to make up for it. This does happen and occasionally we get muddy rain on the cars because of it. I’ve highlighted the heavier precip amounts:

Friday's Rain

And as for this being a cold front -- we dropped from our high of 91° Friday afternoon to our coldest low all month on Saturday of 54°! THAT is quite a drop.

So what was it?

Conclusion: a fast-moving, very cold, very dry front moved through last Friday into a very hot atmosphere. That temperature contrast created strong downburst winds. Fortunately, the damage was minimal:

Tree down in League City from Phoenix on click2pins

As for today, a breezy, damp cold front has arrived and will bring a blustery evening and Thursday, but will set the stage for a spooktacular Halloween weekend!


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About the Author:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.