Cleanup ongoing after tornado hits
Flat area lends itself to severe storms, NWS says
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.
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.
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.
Broken trees and branches surround St. Charles Parkway as citizens pass through the aftermath of Saturday’s tornado on Monday morning.
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.
Rotation clouds begin to form in La Plata Saturday afternoon before a tornado touched down and ran a path down St. Charles Parkway.
A sawed-up tree awaits pickup on the side of St. Charles Parkway on Monday morning in the wake of Saturday’s tornado.
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.