According to Hector Guerrero, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, four weather elements combined to create a “perfect storm” on Easter Sunday 2011.
At 2 p.m. April 24, a dry line moving in from West Texas collided with a stationary cold front running east to west along Interstate 20, right above Abilene. At the same time, Guerrero said, an upper-level disturbance generated “tremendous energy aloft.” The final ingredient was great atmospheric instability caused by lots of cold air at high altitude needing to trade places with warm air at the surface.
“Basically, you had all of the makings of really bad severe weather,” he said.
In Abilene, residents caught away from home reported being stuck inside stores as the rain and hail pelted down, and tornado warnings were announced on TV and radio. Motorists sought shelter under highway overpasses and gas station awnings. One of those seeking shelter was Barry Smith, who was trying to protect his daughter’s day-old car.
More than a year ago, that storm created huge hailstones that battered roofs, punched holes in shingles and shattered windshields. Soon afterward, garage bays filled with cars needing dent repairs and roofers from out of the area swarmed the city.
“It’s about one of the best things that’s going to happen to the economy in Abilene for a long time,” State Farm agent David Ballard said in the week after the storm.
He was right.
There are no existing numbers to exactly quantify the April 24, 2011, hailstorm’s boost to the economy, but the storm generated $505,000 in permit fees for the city, 26 times more than the five-year average for roofing permits. Over the last 12 months, the city has issued 9,838 roofing permits to contractors and repair companies. That’s 24 times as many as the average number of permits issued in the preceding five years, according to records from an online city database.
Roofing repairs may have been the most visible, but other industries also benefited from the shellacking. Half a dozen Abilene painting companies reported more work in the months after the hail as they added coats of paint to roughed-up siding and pummeled fences.
Hail didn’t just pound roofs and tree limbs. There were thousands of shattered car windshields and dented hoods.
Auto body repair business jumped dramatically last spring after the storm and stayed high for months.
Glen Gibbs, manager at Gibbs Paint & Body, said the hailstorm was “very profitable” for the shop, which still sees a few customers every week needing hail damage repairs from last year’s storm.
“Right after the storm it was a rush,” he said. “It was overwhelming. We were overwhelmed. We learned a lot about how to improve with customers.”
After a time, shops changed their procedures to ensure they could handle the increase.
“Shops got smarter about scheduling out so that they could handle all the volume coming in,” said Armen Norman, owner of Norman’s Collision Plus. “At first there were too many, and places couldn’t get everybody in. Some people just waited and are just now coming in. We got three or four in last week that still needed repairs from last year, so there’s still some out there.”
Just days after the ‘perfect storm’ hit Abilene, the same four severe weather elements would combine several hundred miles to the east in a weather system that unleashed hundreds of lethal tornadoes throughout the South. As the storms moved east and north out of Abilene, they generated several tornadoes: one confirmed east of Potosi, one north of Baird in Callahan County, and one near Moran in Shackelford County.