A warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service assessed the Waxahachie High School campus on Sunday and determined the school was, in fact, damaged by a tornado the previous afternoon.
“We do have confirmation that it was a tornado,” stated Jennifer Dunn, who surveyed the land with Waxahachie Police Lt. Rob Best, who serves as the city emergency management officer, and Erik Kyle, the Waxahachie ISD coordinator of security.
The tornado was scaled on the higher-end of an EF-0 with maximum winds at 85 miles per hour. Dunn viewed footage from a WHS surveillance video of rotating winds on the competition field, which is located on the southeast corner of the campus.
“Looking out the back of the school near the tennis courts and a retention pond we could suddenly see the tornado itself,” explained Dunn. “It actually ran from right to left in this case across the field.
"We first saw a sight of it where we saw visual evidence of circulation by the retention pond. Then, [in the video] you see it quickly zip on by to the left, closer to the school, which it would next impact the gym [Indoor Activity Center] and windows and damaged bay.”
Dunn added that the tornado was on the ground for about one to two minutes, traveled less than half-of-a-mile and was the first twister to touch down in Waxahachie since 2002.
Lee Auvenshine, Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources and Legal Services, assessed the campus and reviewed the extent of the damages at the high school.
“Ultimately the school is in good shape," Auvenshine summarized. "We’ve had support services crews today, the City of Waxahachie came out and helped us sweep the parking lot for debris."
He then elaborated on the details of the video that has circulated social media of a double door that blew through the hallway, which leads to the Indoor Activity Center.
Once one out of the four windows that line the IAC was blown out, as well as one of the three rolling garage doors, “That then created the suction that opened the door from the IAC into the hallway, and other suction continuing down that hallway,” Auvenshine explained.
Auvenshine observed the window to the indoor facility and noted the plastic-like material did not shatter after it blew outward toward the student parking lot.
The ceiling tiles in the hallway and weight room sustained some damage, and temporary internal repairs were made. This impairment will be evaluated with the insurance adjuster to find a permanent fix.
As of Monday, the roof had no evidence of rain or wind damage.
"All of the damage to the ceiling tiles was wind damage. So, no rainwater in the building,” Auvenshine affirmed.
In the parking lot, four light poles from the student lot outside the gymnasium were blown over and have since been removed and piled near the competition field. Small trees and parking signs were mangled as well. Fences on the northeast end of the competition field are also down and marked with caution tape.
Auvenshine stated that Waxahachie ISD Athletic Director Greg Reed walked the competition field and reported no damage to the turf and that the area is free of debris. Later this week, Reed will evaluate the turf with a contractor from Helles.
“At this point, there is no known damage to the turf,” Auvenshine confirmed.
The heavy winds carried a now-distorted soccer goal and pole-vaulting pit from the competition field to the grassy area that is catty-corner and to the northeast. Another green mat used for track and field was also blown a significant distance further from the goal post.
In the barren field to the east of the student parking lot and gymnasium was the iconic box truck — flattened. The Spirit of Waxahachie Indian Band utilized it for the past 13 years.
The truck was initially parked in the parking lot parallel to where it currently lies, completely destroyed. Waxahachie High School Band Director Richard Armstrong estimated the truck was carried 50 yards.
When he saw the contorted truck, his original thought was, “That is unfortunate and thank goodness no one was hurt.”
The truck was mainly used to transport props and instruments to games and contests for the high school and all junior high campuses. At one time, this was the only truck used to carry all of the equipment. The band booster purchased the vehicle and gave it to the district.
Armstrong said he believed insurance would replace the truck that is not used as much by the high school students after boosters recently purchased a second 53-foot trailer to add to the 53-foot trailer already in possession.
“If that trailer was not being used in Waco [during a weekend competition] we might have lost two trailers,” Armstrong reconciled.
During the chaos of the storm, approximately two-dozen theater students were inside the Performing Arts Center on campus, practicing for an upcoming show.
Head theater director Andy Reynolds, along with drama teachers Ryan Mullican and Paula Myers, led the safe evacuation of students to the dressing rooms, which are interior rooms within the theater department. Bunkered down with students, staff and some parents was WHS principal Adan Casas, who at the time was touring the campus with his parents. Reynolds recalled other staff on campus as well.
As the adults watched over the students, Reynolds’ curiosities led him to a door in the theater shop facing U.S. Highway Business 287.
“It started to get really loud, and I was watching the rain,” Reynolds recalled. “And I’ve been through a couple of tornadoes in my lifetime before, so I know what they look like and sound like. At that point, it was really eerie. The rain just stopped and then my ears popped and all of a sudden the rain started back up and was going sideways, going toward the parking lot.”
He continued, “I started to feel the ground shake a little — what I can only describe as a jet engine, I could hear the loud noise, and I knew at that point there was a tornado within a few yards of us.”
After the storm subsided, Reynolds and Casas assessed the damage and emergency services, administration, and WISD board members arrived within 10 minutes. All students and staff were accounted for and were released by police.
According to Auvenshine, Waxahachie Fire Marshal Dennis Crecelius will analyze the current safety procedures in place to see if they were completely adequate or if there are areas for improvement.
The campus was closed to all students and staff on Monday, as WISD support services and other personnel addressed various issues within the building with the City of Waxahachie. Students within the district were already scheduled to take off school for the Texas State Fair.
Class resumed on Tuesday as usual. No students or staff members were hurt during the storm, and no other WISD campuses sustained damage.
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450