Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Remembering 17 Years Ago

The Jarrell Tornado
May 27, 1997

The 1997 Central Texas tornado outbreak was an unusual tornado outbreak in Central Texas which occurred on May 27, 1997. The F5 tornado that struck the town of Jarrell killed 27 people. The tornado was 3/4 of a mile wide and tracked across the ground for 7.6 miles.

A subdivision of Jarrell - Double Creek Estates - was literally wiped off the map with all 38 homes and several mobile homes destroyed. All 27 deaths occurred in the Double Creek area.

Jarrell, Texas - May 27, 1997; 3:41pm
A weak pencil-like tornado touched down near the Bell-Williamson County line, the funnel rapidly intensified into a 3/4 mile wide multi-vortex storm at around 3:45 PM CDT.

The tornado continued on before destroying and sweeping away many of the buildings in Double Creek Estates. As the tornado continued it ripped asphalt off the roads. The tornado pulled grass and soil from the ground to a depth of 18 inches before dissipating near a wooded area outside Jarrell.

Afterwards, the most striking sign was the distinct lack of debris of any size. Closer inspection showed lots of little debris, but no sign of large items. At least half a dozen cars were identified from the air lying in the open areas, most of them flattened and encrusted with mud and grass. Later, a ground survey revealed that most of the debris that was left in the area was extremely small, indicating the power of the tornadic winds.

Georgetown IOOF Cemetery, Williamson County, Texas
Cindie, Brandi & Stacy
A loving mother and her two daughters taken
together to a higher place during the tornado in
Jarrell, their lives have passed from our sight
but never from our hearts.


Cindie Smith was an involved and energetic mom who followed her daughters to all their events. In January, she filmed Brandi's basketball game. Behind the camera, she exhorted her daughter to victory. "It's OK. It's alright," she cheers. "Just be ready, baby. It's OK."

Every day, she worked with cattle for an area rancher. Her neighbors admired her strength and toughness. She hauled hay with the best of them. "If a neighbor needed something, if somebody was sick, she'd be there," said neighbor David Rhea. "She was a real sweet person. She always had a good attitude." Smith grew up in Jarrell and graduated from high school here in the late 1970s.

Stacy, who played softball and basketball, would have entered sixth grade this fall. Brandi, who would have entered eighth grade, recently won a University Interscholastic League speech contest.

Berry Creek Cemetery, Williamson County, Texas
In Loving Memory

Bernice Angela
Aug. 2, 1959
May 27, 1997

Brian Allen
Apr. 28, 1986
May 27, 1997

Died in the Jarrell F5 Tornado


Bernice Gower was a special education teacher at Cedar Valley Elementary School in Killeen, where her son, Brian, had just finished the fourth grade.

"She was such a wonderful teacher, so concerned about her students, she did all kinds of things to help them ... learn in whatever ways suited them best," said Lucille Husung, principal at Cedar Valley. Gower had taught at Cedar Valley for three years and taught at another school in Killeen for three years previously.

Brian was enrolled in Boy Scouts in Killeen. "She wanted him to be in Scouts with the kids he went to school with, that's why she put him in Scouts here rather than any other place," Husung said. Gower was also active in the school's PTA chapter, Husung said.

The last night the boy spent with his father, he asked to watch "storm chaser" videotapes. "He wanted to watch them all, and we did. He was interested in tornadoes," his father said, "because he remembered the one (that hit Jarrell) in 1989."

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