Fast-moving storm downs trees, cuts power in Dentsville
No injuries reported as possible funnel cloud sighted
Residents of the Denstville community southeast of La Plata are still cleaning up from a powerful storm that swept quickly through the area Monday afternoon, dumping several inches of rain, toppling trees and leaving an estimated 3,600 residents temporarily without power.
All roads in the area are now passable, though branches still litter sidewalks and lawns, and uprooted trees dot several yards in the area between Route 6, Cooksey Road and Penns Hill Road where the reported wind damage was the strongest.
Leo Yates of Penns Hill Road was home when the storm hit around 4:30 p.m. The strong winds knocked a tree down in his front yard, damaging his roof.
“There was a lot of rain and the wind was blowing like crazy,” Yates said. “It just knocked the tree over and it hit the house.” He said the heavy winds started very quickly and lasted about ten minutes before stopping just as quickly.
Yates’ friend Tom Welch and his son were helping cut up the tree after Welch had used a heavy-duty winch on his roll-off dumpster truck to
lift the tree off the roof.
“More than likely I’ll get some calls from people to get rid of yard waste as they start cleaning up,” Welch said.
“Where I was, it was raining so hard, the visibility was maybe 200 feet,” Welch said. “That was the worst part. So even if there was a funnel cloud, I’d never have seen it coming.”
Although the storm generated strong winds, it was not believed to have spawned a full-fledged tornado.
“We had some personnel who reported seeing the clouds rotating, but nothing dropped to the ground,” said Fire Chief Mark Kaufmann Jr. of Charles County Volunteer Fire and EMS.
Kaufmann, a Dentsville resident, happened to be in town with two fire chiefs from Hughesville, Chief Scott Herbert and Assistant Chief Matt Herbert. Kaufmann oversaw the county’s response to the storm, which involved coordinating units from the Charles County Roads Division, the Maryland State Highway Administration, the Charles County Sheriff’s Office, the Maryland State Police, SMECO and Verizon.
“The initial calls that came in were for multiple trees down in the area, including wires down and transformer fires,” Kaufmann said. “When I was on Charles Street we started experiencing heavy rain, there was cloud-to-ground lightning, the wind started picking up, and then we started experiencing a lot of flooding on the main roads in the Denstville area.”
Initial surveys of the damage were hampered by the threat of another severe storm, but once it was clear that the storm would skirt to the south, brush trucks — large pickups with a crew of two fitted with chainsaws and small fire pumps — fanned out around the community to conduct initial surveys of road conditions for the county and state road crews to tackle.
“The priority after the emergency responses are over is to make sure the public is accounted for and to make sure that we get the roadways open,” Kaufmann said. “Not only does it affect the citizens, it also affects our response if another emergency happens.”
Kaufmann described the damage as “widespread and sporadic,” noting that “there is a semblance of some sort of path.”
The only reported storm-related injury was an off-duty sheriff’s deputy who was transported to the University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center as a precaution after experiencing numbness in his arm following a lightning strike in his backyard. Sheriff’s office spokesperson Diane Richardson said that the deputy was treated and released several hours later.
SMECO spokesperson Tom Dennison said that the storm caused power outages for around 4,400 customers throughout SMECO’s service area. “In Charles County, approximately 3,600 customers lost power, predominantly in the La Plata, Dentsville and Allens Fresh areas,” Dennison said.
Wind gusts upward of 60 miles per hour had been reported during the “extremely fast moving and intense storm” around Penns Hill Road, Dennison said.
Dennison said that all available crews from SMECO’s central and southern regions responded to the cleanup effort. That included nine service trucks, 10 line crews, two apparatus crews with heavy equipment for fixing poles, and five forester crews to clear downed trees.
“It was a very damaging incident,” Dennison said. “We were very pleased that we were able to get power back to 99 percent of everyone by the end of the storm.”
Dennison praised the efforts of Kaufmann and the other first responders in clearing the way for the utility crews to respond promptly.
“The brush trucks were doing a lot of legwork for us,” Dennison said. “There was a lot of cooperation.”
The Charles County Department of Public Works is providing removal of logs, branches and leaves through Tuesday, Sept. 5. Homeowners are encouraged to bring tree limbs and branches to the side of the road, where they will be removed by grapple trucks, which use large clamshell-shaped claws to pick up debris in bulk.
“They don’t have to cut things small, in fact we would prefer them to be long,” said Dennis Fleming, chief of Environmental Resources in the Department of Public Works. “Ten to 12 feet long would be absolutely acceptable.” He noted that the beds of the grapple trucks are in excess of 20 feet long.
“Rather than spending a whole lot of time cutting things into small pieces, if they want to keep it in long pieces, that’s fine,” Fleming said.
“From there, we’re just going to mulch it over in our wood waste processing facility over on Piney Church Road, and redistribute it back to the citizens.”
Fleming said that the department’s initial assessment of the affected area suggests between 50 and 100 residences sustained damage to trees.
To arrange for the pickup service, call the Department of Public Works at 301-932-3440.
Above, the roof of Leo Yates’ house on Penns Hill Road was damaged by a tree that was blown down in an “extremely fast moving and intense storm” on Monday afternoon. Below, uprooted trees and fallen limbs are a common sight around Cooksey and Penns Hill Roads in Dentsville following Monday afternoon’s storm, during which several people reported seeing rotating clouds.
A closeup of the damage to Leo Yates’ roof. An estimated 50 to 100 residences around Dentsville are believed to have experienced some sort of damage to trees as a result of heavy winds and rains on Monday afternoon.
Tom Welch of Welch & Son LLC, a roll-off dumpster service, used his truck’s hoist to lift a fallen tree from the roof of Penns Hill Road resident Leo Yates following Monday’s fast-moving storm that toppled trees and brought down power lines around Dentsville.