Cleanup on­go­ing af­ter tor­nado hits

Flat area lends it­self to se­vere storms, NWS says

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com and TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com

This week­end’s heat and thun­der­storms evolved into much more than lo­cals may have bar­gained for. In­clem- ent weather through­out Charles County turned into a tor­nado — al­beit a weak one — that did dam­age in La Plata and St. Charles.

The twister struck just months ahead of the 15th an­niver­sary of the 2002 La Pla- ta tor­nado that lev­eled parts of the town.

Dan Hof­mann, a spokesman for the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice, said Satur­day’s tor­nado was a “low end” EF1 tor­nado, which is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered rel­a­tively weak. But they can still do sig­nif­i­cant dam­aged if they touch down in the wrong places, Hof­mann said.

The storm had max­i­mum wind speeds of 90 miles per hour, he said, with a max­i­mum width of 125 yards. The storm trav­eled for 8.4 miles.

“It went from just north of La Plata to just east of Wal­dorf. It touched down at 3:06 in the af­ter­noon and was gone at 3:17,” Hof­mann said.

More than 16,000 homes sys­tem-wide lost power on Satur­day, ac­cord­ing to South­ern Mary­land Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive (SMECO) spokesper­son Tom Den­ni­son. The ma­jor­ity of out­ages oc­curred in North­ern and Western Charles County, he said, but the power sys­tem in­cludes Charles, St. Mar y’s, Calvert coun­ties, and south Prince Ge­orge’s County. Most had power re­stored that evening, he said.

The Charles County Emer­gency Ser­vices Depart­ment had cleanup crews out on the roads in St. Charles and La Plata at 8 a.m. Mon­day morn­ing clear­ing the road of any re­main­ing de­bris. The county also opened its re­cy­cle cen­ters to the pub­lic

to bring any wood and branches from their yards to their fa­cil­ity for mulching.

County Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) said the tor­nado was mini- mal, “but it was a torna- do none­the­less.”

Though there are not many tor­na­does in the area, when they do come, Hof­mann said, they can hit South­ern Mary­land hard. There are many vari­ables that go into se­vere weather, he said, and even more that go into tor­na­does.

“Tor­na­does come out of se­vere thun­der­storms and se­vere thun­der- storms like to have a lot of mois­ture and en­ergy to work with,” Hof­mann said. “A lot of times when sys­tems come out of the Po­tomac [River], they get a lot of mois­ture and wind. That can en­hance the storms that cross into South­ern Mary­land and they keep that en­hance­ment be­cause the area is rel­a­tively flat.”

The county has heard re­ports from cit­i­zens, Robin­son said, about trees be­ing downed, cars re­ceiv­ing dam­age and the like. But for­tu­nately, he said, no one was hurt dur­ing the storm. The dam­age can be de­scribed as “min­i­mal to mod­er­ate,” he said.

“There was noth­ing dev­as­tat­ing,” Robin­son said.

The storm hap­pened abruptly on Satur­day with lit­tle warn­ing. Hof­mann said the events lead­ing up to the storm hap­pened very quickly.

The tor­nado touched down along Rosewick Road in La Plata. Daniel Mears, the town man­ager of La Plata, said the Lowes home im­prove­ment store in the area ex­pe­ri­enced some dam­age with ceil­ing pan­els, but did not suf­fer from any struc­tural dam­age.

“Low pres­sure caused the air mass be­tween the drop ceil­ing and the roof to equal­ize quickly, forc­ing its way through the pan­els,” Mears said. “Lowes closed af­ter the

storm to al­low time for a struc­tural en­gi­neer to come and eval­u­ate the con­di­tion of the build­ing.”

A tree west of Wash­ing­ton Av­enue fell over and al­most hit a house, he said. There were other lo­ca­tions where branches and trees came down, he said, and some re­ports of blownover fenc­ing.

Many cit­i­zens in the Town of La Plata were con­cerned about the town’s tor­nado alarm not go­ing off be­fore the storm, Mears said, but he noted the alarm is not con­trolled by the town.

The Charles County 911 cen­ter op­er­ates the alarms, Mears said. The tor­nado was spot­ted out­side the cov­er­age area of La Plata by a Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fi­cer, he said, and it was mov­ing away from the town.

La Plata has out­door sirens, he said, but they are in­tended to warn res­i­dents of the im­mi­nent threat of a tor­nado.

“The sirens are not in­tended nor guar­an­teed to warn res­i­dents who are in­doors,” Mears said.

Robin­son agreed that the tor­nado was out­side of the cov­er­age area, but also said the sirens are han­dled by the Town of La Plata, not the county. The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice did not alert the county that the tor­nado touched down un­til af­ter the fact, he said.

Ei­ther way, Robin­son said, no one was hurt dur­ing the storm — and that is what mat­ters most, he said.

In­dian Head was clear of the twister’s path, though the se­vere weather still did dam­age in the com­mu­nity.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice deemed the event in In­dian Head to be straight-line winds as­so­ci­ated with a very strong thun­der­storm, Karen Wil­liams, the head of com­mu­nity af- fairs in the town, said. Most of the dam­age oc­curred on pri­vate prop­erty.

“We were ba­si­cally the be­gin­ning be­fore the tor­nado formed it- self,” Wil­liams said. “In ad­di­tion to a tree fall­ing on Mayor Bran­don Paulin’s front porch, a tree fell by a pri­vate res­i­dent’s home.”

A tree also fell in the Vil­lage Green area but did not dam­age any prop­erty, she said. An­other tree fell on four parked cars in the area, she said.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF KAREN WIL­LIAMS, TOWN OF IN­DIAN HEAD

A tree dam­aged mul­ti­ple cars in the Town of In­dian Head just af­ter a storm passed through Satur­day af­ter­noon. The sys­tem soon led to a tor­nado touch­ing down in La Plata and Wal­dorf.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

A tree fell on In­dian Head Mayor Bran­don Paulin’s home as a re­sult of the storms that passed through Charles County on Satur­day af­ter­noon, in­clud­ing a tor­nado that passed through La Plata into St. Charles.

STAFF PHOTO BY MICHAEL SYKES II

Bro­ken trees and branches sur­round St. Charles Park­way as cit­i­zens pass through the af­ter­math of Satur­day’s tor­nado on Mon­day morn­ing.

STAFF PHOTO BY MICHAEL SYKES II

Cleanup crews along St. Charles Park­way on Mon­day morn­ing re­move sawed wood from the side of the road, part of the af­ter­math of Satur­day’s tor­nado.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO BY JARED RUCKER

Ro­ta­tion clouds be­gin to form in La Plata Satur­day af­ter­noon be­fore a tor­nado touched down and ran a path down St. Charles Park­way.

STAFF PHOTO BY MICHAEL SYKES II

A sawed-up tree awaits pickup on the side of St. Charles Park­way on Mon­day morn­ing in the wake of Satur­day’s tor­nado.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF RICK SNIDER

Hail on the ground in Charles County on Satur­day af­ter­noon as a re­sult of the tor­nado that hit the area at 3:06 p.m.

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