Path length: 2.5 miles
Width: 400 yards
Start: 32.412 / -97.754
End: 32.438 / -97.7243
On the evening of May 15, 2013, a regional outbreak of 20 tornadoes took place in Texas and Oklahoma. Most of these twisters proved harmless and weak (rated EF0 and EF1). However, the southwestern fringes of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex saw two, rated EF3 and EF4, which accounted for most of the outbreak’s property losses and injuries. The latter, and the focus of this summary, only needed 2.5 miles to devastate the community of Granbury, TX, where six people lost their lives.
At approximately 7:58 pm CDT, a small funnel stretched to the ground in a Granbury, TX neighborhood on the western bank of Lake Granbury. Light damage occurred to some residences along Cheyenne and Apache Trails before the wind spiral continued its half-mile journey eastward across the water.
Once across the lake, power lines and trees were damaged while the vortex slowly made its way toward the Rancho Brazos Estates subdivision on the southeast side of Granbury.
Reflectivity and velocity of the supercell as the tornado formed. Images from NWS Forth Worth/Dallas.
According to a May 17, 2013 edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Rancho Brazos Estates was the product of a faith-based nonprofit organization known as Habitat for Humanity. Over the years, homes were being built to offer low-income families a place they could proudly call home.
Arlena Sherman and neighbor Allacia Jenny stood outside and watched the eerie storm approach their street in Rancho Brazos Estates, not knowing what was in store. “I was standing there watching the clouds roll in,” Sherman recalled in the May 17, 2013, edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I didn’t have a clue.” She then went back inside with seconds to spare. The twister was coming.
At the intersection of Davis Road and DeCordova Ranch Road, the slow-moving funnel reared its ugly head, shifted north towards the neighborhood, and intensified. Residential damage became more evident, including one mobile home tossed over 100 yards from its origin. Two people lost their lives.
Continuing towards the intersection of Sundown Trail and Echo Trail, the winds became catastrophic. Houses, mobile homes, trees, and every piece of livelihood morphed into deadly shrapnel as the merciless vortex shot through the heart of Rancho Brazos Estates.
Ten-year-old Joseph Youngblood was sheltering in a bathroom with his friend’s family when the tornado hit. When the winds died down, it was the only room left standing. Joseph spoke of his horrific encounter in a May 17, 2013, article on KXAS5:
“‘I just ran in the bathroom and [it] started, I got down and covered my head,’ said Youngblood, who is now at a Red Cross shelter.
Youngblood was at his friend’s home playing in the yard at about 8pm Wednesday when the skies started to change.
‘We started hearing the tornado sirens go off and then we look up at the clouds and we see the tornado twisting, so we all rushed in the bathroom,’ Youngblood said.
Youngblood and five other people huddled together inside the bathroom while the tornado barreled down upon them. At the time, the boy said he did not even mind that he was cowered over a cat’s litter box.
‘I just went and ducked somewhere. I didn’t even care. I was so scared,’ Youngblood said.
As the wind started howling and the house started to come apart around them, Youngblood said his friend’s father struggled to keep the bathroom door closed.
‘[The tornado] was starting to get more power and then he was, like, barely hanging on because the tornado was about to suck him outside,’ Youngblood said.”
While nature’s fury spared the isolated bathroom, Joseph and his friend’s family remained trapped when the door would not open due to the weight of outside debris. Rescue firefighters eventually found the survivors and cut them free with axes. Youngblood was reunited with his family soon after.
Nearby, Amanda Hernandez was with her husband and three children at their home, watching TV as the funnel approached. Then came the local news interruption for inclement weather.
The May 17, 2013, edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram captured Amanda’s story:
“‘We were getting warnings,’ she said Thursday morning at First Christian Church in Granbury, where Red Cross workers had set up an assistance center and shelter. ‘But I wasn’t really worried.’
Then the tornado sirens went off near the family’s manufactured home, and Hernandez moved her three children to a closet as a precaution. Authorities say that sirens were sounded 15 minutes before the tornado hit and that an automated text message system was also used to warn residents of the twister.
Minutes later the power went out. Hail peppered the house. Then, Hernandez recalled, the dreaded sound of an approaching train.
‘It seemed like it lasted for an hour,’ she said of those tense moments in the dark closet. Her 11-year-old daughter cried out in terror, ‘Please, God! Please, God!’
Her boys, ages 7 and 2, sat in frightened silence.
When calm returned, the family members emerged to find an alien world where their neighborhood of five years had stood the last time they saw it.
The tornado left a path of destruction about 100 yards wide and a mile long. Debris was piled and strewn everywhere. Trees had been turned into missiles, piercing cars, doors and walls.
‘You could see across where houses were supposed to be,’ said Hernandez, whose house lost half its roof. ‘Lots of people were bleeding. Some of them were hurt pretty bad.’
The family stayed with her sister Wednesday night, but she doesn’t know what will happen next.
‘We didn’t have insurance,’ Hernandez said. ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do.’”
As if the tornado had exhausted its power, weakening began as the funnel continued north and out of the subdivision. As the twister crossed an adjacent field, farms and outbuildings were damaged. Three horses left exposed were killed. A few trees in this area were debarked in the core winds, where only branchless stubs remained.
The tornado dramatically shrunk as it reached Bob White Drive, where outbuildings lost portions of their roofs. A final mobile home was significantly damaged before the funnel dissipated approximately one mile north-northeast of Rancho Brazos Estates at 8:11 pm CDT.
Just minutes earlier, Arlena Sherman stood amongst the peaceful neighborhood of Rancho Brazos Estates, watching the storm’s approach. When she emerged again, Arlena walked into the aftermath of a warzone. “Oh, my God, it was horrible,” Sherman said overwhelmingly.
The situation in Rancho Brazos Estates quickly became dire as night arrived. Chaos reigned as survivors scrambled to find help. Ambulances were rushed in from surrounding communities.
“People were walking around dazed, covered with dirt and debris,” Paul Justice, a local resident, explained in the May 17, 2013, edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I saw two ladies bundled up. One couldn’t walk, so we put her into a pickup. They were going to try and get her to a hospital.” Per the same newspaper, Ray Fishercord, a volunteer with the American Red Cross, explained, “The American Legion Hall at the bottom of the hill looked like a triage scene from M*A*S*H.”
Sheriff Roger Deeds arrived on the scene anxious about what he would find. Search and rescue worked tirelessly into the night, with search dogs helping locate casualties. “It only lasted about two minutes. Then it was over. It was just horrific when we [went] outside. It was unimaginable all of the devastation around us. Homes were flattened. People were screaming, pinned, or trapped in their homes. It was just terrible,” said Deeds in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s May 17, 2013 edition.
According to the Times Record News in a May 17, 2013 article, when County Commissioner Steve Berry arrived on the scene, he had trouble knowing what street he was on. “Half of one home was torn away while the other half was still standing, glasses and vases intact on shelves. Trees and debris were scattered across yards, and fences were flattened. Sheet metal could be seen hanging from utility wires.”
Amid the tragedy, one survivor was able to find comfort. Jerry Shuttlesworth was injured when the twister took his mobile home. He was lucky to survive but paid a heavy price in the form of a broken foot and a two-inch gash on his forehead. He also thought he had lost his loving companion. Junior, a bull-terrier mix, had gone missing following the storm. Word had been spread to be on the lookout for Shuttlesworth’s pup. After two days, Junior had been found and taken to a shelter. “You could call it a miracle,” Shuttlesworth joyfully said in the May 18, 2013, edition of the Longview News-Journal. “He’s scratched up and a little traumatized, but he’s eating. He’s my baby. I don’t care about anything else.”
In all, six people were killed in Rancho Brazos Estates, and 54 more were injured. But the death toll could have been much higher. “The good Lord was busy last night,” Fishercord continued. “Most of the homes had people in them when the tornado hit, and most of the people said they couldn’t believe what happened.”
Seeing what became of Rancho Brazos Estates was hard to take for Elsie Tallant, a Habitat for Humanity volunteer. She had been bringing lunch to those who were building the homes. “I tell you, it has just broken my heart,” Elsie said in the May 17, 2013, edition of the Times Record News. In the same article, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Texas, Amy Parham, also reacted upon arriving at the devastation. “One of our neighborhoods was devastated. But we have faith. Texas looks after Texans. We have faith that we will come together. This is a long-term project.”
A year after the tornado, Sandy Daughtery remembered surviving the heart of a twister by the skin of her teeth. She had lived in one of the homes built by Habitat for Humanity. Two walls were all that remained. But she was grateful. “We’re alive. We came out without a scratch and that’s all that really matters,” Daughtery said in a May 15, 2014 KERA article.
Habitat for Humanity had spent the better part of five years building homes for families in need. A year after the tornado, they were determined to repeat the process. Hood County Habitat for Humanity director Carol Davidson spoke with KERA in a May 15, 2014, article on what she remembered from that night. “We could only tell where our homes had been, many of them, by the driveway,” Davidson said. “We had 60 homes in the neighborhood. Fifty-eight of them were occupied by families.” She went on to say that all of their homes had either been damaged or destroyed. But much progress has been made since then. “Fifty-three of those 58 families decided to come back, and those homes are rebuilt or repaired and they are back in their homes,” explained Davidson. But she notes there’s still plenty of work to be done and that the emotional scars are still fresh on the community.
“To an outsider, it might not look like a lot of progress has been made. There’s still more work to be done. But it’s exciting to see how far the neighborhood has come from the utter destruction of that night. We miss the trees. There used to be a lot of trees, but those will grow back. And we’ll plant more. There was fear coming back just because of having gone through a tornado. But they are the most brave group of people I’ve ever seen. And I think the fact that we are in such a community together helps all of us be able to move forward and put one foot in front of the other and do what we need to do. They love each other. They helped each other. This wasn’t just Habitat. It was the whole community. It was wonderful.”
In Loving Memory
Robert Harold Whitehead, 69
Glenda Marline Kelly Whitehead, 63
Jose Tovar Alvarez, 34
Leo Stefanski, 83
Tommy Joe Martin, 61
Marjorie Ann Camp Davis, 81
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