The howling wind that left a narrow path of destruction through Dundalk was a low-grade tornado, a National Weather Service meteorologist said yesterday after surveying damage and interviewing witnesses.
The tornado touched down for less than one minute around 3: 40 p.m. Friday. It ripped trees from the ground, snapped off some at the base, tore a porch off a house and overturned boats and an office trailer, said meteorologist Barry S. Goldsmith.
"The eyewitness accounts all said the same thing: rotating winds in a horizontal shape with leaves and things being sucked up inside," Goldsmith said as he inspected a building at Ivy Steel and Wire on Fischer Road in Dundalk, where part of the rear brick wall was blown off.
Next door at Containers Depot, 25 to 30 8,400-pound metal storage crates were twisted and blown around the parking lot.
The only person seriously injured, Joey Rathel, 19, of Hamilton, was in an office trailer at North Point Road Boulevard and St. Monica Drive when the trailer was lifted by the wind and overturned onto a tow truck. He suffered bruises, minor cuts and a deep gash on his right forearm that required 60 stitches, he said.
Rathel said he had stopped by the trailer at his uncle's storage lot Friday afternoon and was listening with disbelief to radio warnings of an approaching tornado when the trailer flipped over and he was knocked from side to side several times.
"It was like being inside a salt-and-pepper shaker," he said. "The next time one of these hits, I'll try to make my way to a basement or something."
Goldsmith said the winds reached speeds up to 100 mph, flattened grass and blew down trees in a circular pattern. This, coupled with witness accounts of horizontal cloud formations with a dark funnel down the middle, led him to classify the storm as a tornado, he said.
Witnesses also said the winds whistled and roared like a freight train -- characteristic descriptions of a tornado, Goldsmith said.
"There was not a continuous swath of damage, but it skipped up and down several times," he said. "That's what tornadoes are like in this part of the world -- it's not like [the movie] 'Twister.' "
At least 20 tornadoes have hit Maryland this year, and 25 were confirmed last year, Goldsmith said.
In the Baltimore area, heavy rain and winds caused power failures in nearly 9,000 homes, most in Baltimore, said Darcel Guy, a spokeswoman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.
The storm, which dumped 2.7 inches of rain at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, flooded many streets in Baltimore and Annapolis.
At the Sheltered Harbor Marina in Dundalk, at least 49 boats were damaged and eight destroyed, said manager Paul N. Trapani. One boat sank, others were blown into other boats and cars, and still others were torn apart, with their pieces blown 50 feet away.
Along the tornado's path, at waterfront houses on Old Battle Grove Road, at least 10 trees were uprooted or snapped, swing sets were mangled and overturned and a sun porch was torn off the home of Jerry Derka, an auto body repairman.
Insulation from the porch hung in trees 75 feet away, and metal and glass debris landed over the fence and behind the house next door.
Derka, who has lived in the neighborhood since the 1940s, said he has never seen a storm of such intensity.
"I just can't believe this," he said.
Pub Date: 11/10/96