The small town of Amarillo, Texas, was hit with a whopper of a storm Wednesday morning that left four feet of hail in its wake.
Officials from the National Weather Service in Amarillo said that the storm was so severe and the hail so unrelenting that a major highway in Potter County was completely covered.
But the photos of the one-off event are so unbelievable that an army of online skeptics have cast doubt on their authenticity, suggesting that instead they may simply show large rocks.
Several vehicles got stuck in the flash flooding and two feet of water also struck a stretch of Highway 136, the weather service reported.
One Chevy Tahoe, a large SUV, got stuck in hail up to its hood, Krissy Scotten, a spokeswoman for the weather service office in Amarillo, told MSNBC.com.
When the weather service posted a photograph to Facebook of a firefighter next to the ice — which reached all the way up to his chest – commenters couldn’t believe their eyes.
“That just doesn’t even look real! Dang!” Bridget Hefner said on the site.
Commenters turned their disbelief into hypotheses, offering alternative explanations to the unbelievable reality.
“Looks like a bunch of rocks/stones,” suggested Tiffany Baugh Berry.
Another cynical poster wrote: “It’s a lite dusting of hail on some damn rocks.”
“I can assure you we do not have big rocks like that in West Texas,” Krissy Scotten retorted to MSNBC.com.
“That was four feet of ice,” she insisted, adding that the hail was compacted by rain and floodwater across a wide area.
She blamed the ice’s rock-like appearance on drought.
“We’re very dusty around here,” Krissy Scotten said.
“It was actually the rain/water that caused the drifts,” she said.
“Anytime you have hail accumulate two to four feet high and get over three inches of rain, no matter how it occurs, it’s pretty incredible.”
The Texas Department of Transportation said that at the storm’s climax, there was zero visibility on the road.
Maintenance crews worked on Thursday to clear roads after the storm, which left so much hail in its wake that workers had to use snow plows to clear the piles from the road.
“It was crazy,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Justyn Jackson said about the freak event.
As the hail started to melt, it created flash floods which swept through the area.
“It looked like soap suds,” said a local TV meteorologist.
“The storm was moving really slow and a combination of the pea-sized hail and four to six inches of rain created those conditions.”
The rural area where the storm struck was mainly ranch land, about 25 miles north of Amarillo and south of Dumas. Rainwater gushed across the parched land, washing dirt and then mud into the hail, pushing it all onto U.S. 287, Potter County Sheriff Brian Thomas said.
“There were just piles of hail,” said Maribel Martinez with the Amarillo/Potter/Randall Office of Emergency Management.
“Some of the cars were just buried in hail and people were trapped in their cars.”
The southbound lane of the highway, which was shut down around 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, finally reopened early on Thursday morning.
Emergency crews also got several swift-water rescue calls as the road was flooded in low-lying areas, she said. Rural fences and vehicles suffered hail damage but there were no reported injuries.
But the National Weather Service said it’s starting to clear up and should be a sunny weekend.
“That’s a good thing since it will take a few days for that hail to melt,” said Andrew Moulton, an NWS meteorologist in Amarillo.
Pea-sized hail, flash flooding and rain combined to form the perfect storm, but it didn’t set any records.
Krissy Scotten says the weather service doesn’t keep records of quantities of hail.
“This was just one of those weird storms,” Potter County sheriff Brian Thomas told KAMR-TV.
The region isn’t unfamiliar with this kind of weather either.
A similar storm hit Dalhart, Texas, in 1993, according to Jose Garcia, the chief forecaster at Amarillo’s weather service.
He said that the five to six-foot deep hail took over a month to melt.