Accustomed to Disasters, Houston Didn’t See This One Coming

The storm that hurtled through Houston late Thursday surprised a city long accustomed to bouts of serious weather. The Astros kept playing baseball, even as rain and wind whipped into the team’s closed-dome stadium. Many people, following their evening routines, were caught unaware on bikes or at the gym.

By Friday, all across town — but particularly in the dense and verdant inner loop neighborhoods that radiate from the city’s skyscrapers — Houstonians confronted a cityscape of debris left by winds of up to 100 miles per hour, as strong as some of the hurricanes that have hit the city in recent years.

Decades-old oak and pecan trees were ripped in two or knocked over at the roots, flattening fences or blocking roadways. Stop signs leaned at sharp angles. Highway billboards buckled, including the Car Wreck Cowboy, a local lawyer whose sign, usually towering over Interstate 45 near downtown, had been flattened into an empty lot.

At least four people died as a result of the powerful winds, and about a million on the Gulf Coast lost power. The seriousness of the moment was underscored when Mayor John Whitmire, a moderate Democrat, and the top county official, Lina Hidalgo, a progressive, put aside their differences and held a joint news conference on Friday — their first since Mr. Whitmire was elected last year.

Windows were blown out of a high-rise building in downtown Houston. Powerful winds there reached about 100 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service.Credit…Jon Shapley/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press
Police officers surveying the storm damage in downtown Houston.Credit…Jon Shapley/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press
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