Friday, April 10, 2009

Winds delays flights, fuel fires across Texas

Strong winds delayed flights, fueled grassfires and knocked over a gasoline pump in Texas on Thursday, but were expected to die down heading into the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

In North Texas, officials said wind gusts delayed flights at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport by about an hour and 45 minutes Thursday afternoon.

"Our biggest problem is extremely strong cross winds — heavy, westerly winds," said Tim Smith, an American Airlines spokesman. "As most people know, the majority of DFW runways run north and south."

Consequently, there were not enough crosswind runways to handle the incoming traffic, he said. There was at least one cancellation and one flight diverted to another airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control system put a ground delay program in place around 3:15 p.m. that reduced the flight arrival rate to less than half the normal rate.

"We were expecting West Texas dust to arrive with the winds and gust front and it did," Smith said of the haze visible from his office window.

The winds also fueled grassfires that forced some evacuations across portions of North and West Texas on Thursday.

Strong storms moved through portions of East Texas Thursday night, downing trees in Harrison County and dropping nickel-sized to quarter-sized hail in Upshur County.

"It was nerve-racking around here, but we got through it," said Upshur County dispatcher Rodney Davis. No injuries were reported in either county.

Winds gusting up to 55 mph knocked over a gasoline pump in Odessa on Thursday. Chevron District Supervisor Thomas Quintela said in a story for Friday's Odessa American that the pump had a built-in automatic shut-off switch. No injuries were reported.

Skies were expected to be sunny on Friday with highs in the 70s and overnight lows near 50 in North Texas. Winds were expected to calm down, with a northerly wind between 10 and 15 mph possible around Dallas and Fort Worth.

In the Panhandle, sunny skies were expected on Friday with wind gusts up to 20 mph. Highs in the 60s and overnight lows in the 40s were possible.

Mostly sunny skies were expected in Central Texas on Friday. Highs near 80 and overnight lows in the mid-50s were possible with northerly winds between 5 and 10 mph expected around Austin and San Antonio.

There was a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after 1 p.m. along the Gulf Coast with patchy fog possible around Houston in the morning. Highs near 80 and overnight lows in the lower to upper 60s were expected.

In West Texas, skies were forecast to be sunny on Friday and winds were expected to be breezy. Gusts could reach 25 mph around El Paso and 20 mph near Midland and Odessa. Highs in the 70s and overnight lows in the 40s were predicted.