2 deaths reported as area is lashed by violent storms Two waves of 'downbursts' damage houses, uproot trees

August 21, 1991|By Joel McCord Deborah I. Greene, Sandra Crockett, John Rivera and Dennis O'Brien of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

A series of "downbursts" -- the same weather phenomenon thought to have sunk the Pride of Baltimore in 1986 -- struck northeastern Baltimore County yesterday, hurling trees through windows and ripping chimneys from houses.

The violent downdrafts were part of a pattern of storms that pounded the Baltimore region in waves Monday night and yesterday with spectacular lightning shows and thunderstorms that dumped torrential rains through the northern and western suburbs.

A 55-year-old Mount Airy man was killed when his car skidded out of control Monday night on a wet road in Frederick County, and a young Harford County man drowned trying to swim during a storm. Lightning struck a Parkville apartment building about 1 a.m., starting a fire that left 45 tenants homeless.

At midmorning yesterday, a 12-year-old Cockeysville youth was swept away by water that roared through a drainage ditch, but he managed to pull himself from the torrent. He was treated at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

One downburst, with winds of about 80 mph, struck at Carroll Manor Road and Sweet Air Road in eastern Baltimore County about 10:30 a.m., said Fred Davis, meteorologist for the U.S. Weather Service at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

It damaged four houses, three of which were occupied, and destroyed a construction trailer, he said.

Kristy Howell, who was home with her 12-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, said a tree went through the skylight in her kitchen, a picnic table was thrown around her yard and 100 pine trees were uprooted.

"We had all this stuff flying all over," she recalled. ""It was unbelievable. We didn't want all these trees, anyway, but we could have gotten rid of some of them another way."

Her neighbor Betty Elder was at work when the storm hit and was called home by her husband. "It looks like a bomb hit," she said of the damage to her home.

Frosty Wertz, the assistant chief of the Jacksonville Volunteer Fire Co., said his company arrived on the scene about 11 a.m. to find the remains of the construction trailer and a house with a "tree sticking through the roof of it."

Ken Shaver, another Weather Service forecaster, said downbursts commonly occur along the leading edges of thunderstorms, where unstable air creates sharp updrafts and downdrafts.

The storms that led to yesterday's downbursts were among the second wave to sweep through the area from the Ohio Valley, forecasters said.

The first storms, preceded by spectacular lightning flashes and claps of thunder, hit about 8 p.m. Monday, dumping heavy rain, mostly in Carroll and Harford counties, and bringing the lightning that struck the Ridge Garden Apartments in the 8500 block of Old Harford Road in Parkville.

The resulting fire destroyed 22 apartments that housed 45 people. An additional 50 tenants were evacuated for about two hours.

John P. Martonick, property manager for Multi-Properties Inc., which manages the 603-unit complex, said 19 of the tenants moved into vacant apartments nearby and were assisted by the Red Cross and area churches in finding temporary furnishings ++ and clothes.

Other tenants found accommodations with family and friends, except for an elderly couple who were housed at a motel, said Linda Klein, a Red Cross spokeswoman.

Another lightning bolt punched a hole in the roof of Dulaney Valley High School in Timonium, said Rick Bavaria, Baltimore County School spokesman.

About the same time the lightning struck in Parkville, Kenneth Colman, 21, of the 1000 block of Plaza Circle in Joppa, tried to swim across a lake at the Edgewater Village apartments. Friends saw him struggle near the center of the lake, then go under. Volunteer rescue workers recovered his body, and state police were waiting for the results of a blood-alcohol test last night.

Earlier in the evening, Guy A. Moore of Mount Airy was killed when his car slid out of control on Route 26 near Libertytown. State police said Mr. Moore, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown from his car after it skidded off the road and struck a tree. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The second wave of storms cut a wide swath through the area PTC about 12 hours after the first.

Art Slusark, a spokesman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., said the utility's monitoring equipment recorded 2,100 lightning strikes in its eight-county service area from 6 p.m. to midnight Monday.

At one point, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials said, about 71,000 customers were without power. The utility had restored service to all but about 3,000 customers, but the areas of failure varied through the night as new storm cells moved into the area.

In Harford County, downed trees and wires caused some small fires. In the Broadview area of Abingdon, south of Bel Air, high winds downed power lines and trees along a path about a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide, and ripped chimneys and siding from houses.

Late yesterday afternoon, a third storm system formed near Richmond, Va., Mr. Shaver said, and brought heavy rains to Anne Arundel County and the Eastern Shore.

Later in the evening, severe storms downed trees and power lines in Frederick and Washington counties but dissipated within an hour. Other storms continued, but did little damage, weather service forecasters said.

The storms were expected to be gone by this morning, and the forecast for today calls for partly sunny skies with highs between and 85 and west winds at 10 to 15 mph.

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