Twin tornadoes wreak havoc on Austin, threatening state tournament in 1922
In early May 1922, top high school players traveled from around the state to Austin to compete in the UIL State Tournament.
The UIL had hosted the first boys doubles state championship in 1914, followed by boys singles in 1919 and girls singles and doubles in 1920. The students had competed locally, qualifying for the big event, which was to be held on the University of Texas campus. Nothing could have prepared them for what would happen during the early rounds of the state tournament.
That Thursday morning began with clear skies and little, if any, breeze. By mid-day, it was warm and humid. Clouds had formed but the wind was still calm. There was no real indication of what was to come later that afternoon. Not long after lunchtime, towering clouds began developing, mainly north and northeast of the University of Texas campus. By late afternoon the sky had grown so dark that artificial lighting was needed in the campus buildings. The matches were halted.
A single super cell created two twisters: one headed for East Austin and a second ripped through downtown. The two "twin tornadoes", the most violent to ever strike Austin, ripped through the city. One was estimated to be an F2 and the other a F4.
The east tornado (believed to be an F2) tore through East Austin, Travis Heights, St. Edward's University, Penn Field, St. Elmo, and Manchaca. The west (believed to be a F4) thrashed the University of Texas campus, damaging and completely destroying some buildings. No one at the University was seriously hurt but the storm did claim 16 lives and caused millions of dollars in structural damages to the city.
With the destruction from the storm and saturated lawn courts, chances of completing the tennis event looked grim.
Dr. D. A. Penick, UIL director of tennis, came up with a solution. He roped off a stretch of then newly laid pavement on Colorado Street, west of the Capitol and had match play resume early Friday morning. On Saturday afternoon, at the originally scheduled time, Penick was able to announce the winners. They included:
Boys' Doubles: Douglas Bush and Allen Smith, Waco
Boys' Singles: John Barr, Dallas Oak Cliff
Girls' Doubles: Josie Probst and Kindois Riggs, George West
Girls' Singles: Ida Hoghland, Abilene
View of tornado as seen from Congress Avenue downtown Austin, Texas, photograph, May 4, 1922; University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.
A funnel cloud swirls around the dome of the Texas State Capitol.
The state tournament was played on newly laid pavement on Colorado Street, west of the Capitol.