Heaven's Fury

October 20, 1990

The Baltimore tornado of 1903 tore a wall right off the Patterson Dance Hall at Eager Street and Broadway.

In March 1924, while electricity crackled all over Appalachia, a tornado lifted the Potomac River from its bed and deposited the water in the streets of Cumberland.

The Frederick County tornado of 1929 bashed in the house at the old Schley place at Harmony Grove and left the silo untouched, but the remarkable thing was what it did to the barn. The barn went up in the air in pieces which no one ever found. It just disappeared.

A tornado in Baltimore County in June 1973 picked up a car headed southbound on Loch Raven Boulevard, rolled it over the median and sent it northbound.

Maryland gets on average about one confirmed tornado a year. The tornado that visited the Chartley section of northwest Baltimore County on Thursday tore the roofs off garden apartments without killing anybody. It was a tragedy that devastated homes and lives. It vented force, on a scale that is normally only imagined and never seen in the elements about us, on a small area. That the victims survived is a tribute to the emergency services of Baltimore County as well as their own pluck and the unfathomable whim of fate.

The concentrated devastation distracted from the destructiveness of the larger storm, a cold front from the west invading warmer air over a sun-heated ground. Trees went down far and wide. Power was cut to 81,900 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers. Winds of 73 mph were recorded in Brooklyn Park in northern Anne Arundel County.

Sometimes a tornado, its dark funnel rising and falling, is seen but leaves no trace. Then it is not, officially, a tornado. This one was. Though it may not have been seen, it twisted the trees. Only a tornado does that, so this had to be one.

It lasted three minutes and cut a 100-yard swath an eighth of a mile before returning whence it came. By then, 60 people were injured, 59 were homeless, some $15 million damage was done to some 170 houses for 500 people, and 18 living units had to be condemned. Just like that.

All of us who live in the area of the larger storm, where the tornado watch was announced, but not in the six blocks near Glyndon Drive and Shirley Manor Road, were extremely fortunate. The fury that was visited on that handful of residents might have struck anywhere else in the region. No one knows why it didn't.

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