Possible tornado damages Houston-area mall

HOUSTON (AP) — City roads were flooded and thousands of Houston residents lost power Monday after powerful thunderstorms plowed through the area, with a possible tornado damaging and shutting down a nearby mall.

The skies over Houston turned pitch black as the massive storms raced through the drought-stricken area, dropping several inches of rain over a two-hour period. Roads rapidly flooded and drivers became stranded on major arteries that connect the city’s sprawling neighborhoods and suburbs.

In Texas City, a town about 40 miles southeast of Houston, a possible tornado damaged the roof and wall of the Mall of the Mainland, and Fire Chief Joe Gorman evacuated and shut down the building. In North and West Texas, meanwhile, the National Weather Service said a cold, steady downpour will drop an inch or two of much-needed rain.

The drought, however, is far from over.

“We’re not going to end the drought this winter even if we have above-normal rainfall,” said State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.

According to preliminary data, Texas got about 14.89 inches of rain in 2011, compared to a normal average of 29.39 inches — levels that compare to 1917 and 1956, some of the driest years in recorded history, Nielsen-Gammon said. Recovering from that will take a wet winter, and a wetter-than-normal spring, he said.

By early Monday, up to 4 inches of rain had fallen on parts of the Houston area.

and neighboring areas. Some places were expected to end the day with more than that, said Don Oettinger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in League City, the office responsible for southeast Texas.

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