Tornado cuts 4-mile path of damage in Cecil County

No injuries are reported despite demolished homes, uprooted telephone poles

May 03, 2002|By Frank D. Roylance and Lane Harvey Brown | Frank D. Roylance and Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

A tornado struck a rural section of Cecil County in northeastern Maryland late yesterday, the second to hit the state in five days.

The funnel cloud was spotted as it touched down south of the town of Calvert at 5:55 p.m. and tracked northeast toward nearby Blue Ball.

About 15 homes, sheds and barns sustained moderate to extensive damage, and several lost their roofs, according to the state police.

One home under construction was demolished, one family was displaced, and large trees and utility poles were splintered, snapped or uprooted along a 4 1/2 -mile-long, 200-yard-wide path of destruction.

No injuries were reported last night, said Lt. Bud Frank, a state police spokesman.

He credited weather forecasters, and the storm watches and warnings they issued throughout the day, for putting residents on alert and preventing injuries.

Police reported a large amount of debris in the roads.

A state police helicopter crew flew over the tornado's path before dark, assessing damage and looking for residents in need of help, Frank said.

The National Weather Service said the twister formed over York County, Pa., where a tornado watch was issued at 4:56 p.m. A second warning was broadcast at 5:13 p.m. for northern Harford County, but no damage was reported there.

A local ham radio operator reported that the funnel cloud touched down at 5:22 p.m. near Delta, Pa., a town in York County just north of the Harford County line, and a few miles from the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant.

The weather service issued a tornado warning for Cecil County at 5:22 p.m., according to meteorologist Steve Zubrick. The twister touched down about 30 minutes later at England Creamery and Crothers roads and traveled northeast until it dissipated around Route 273 and Fairview Road.

"It was the most horrible thing you've ever seen. The clouds just dropped out of the sky," said Jennifer Reynolds, who saw the twister west of Route 272 about 5:45 p.m. as she was driving home with her children, Thomas, 6, and Cindy, 15.

Reynolds pulled into the driveway of her home on Steeplechase Lane in the Calvert development of Tailwinds Estates, followed by a Mercedes driven by a man named Jim. He pulled in behind her seeking shelter, and Reynolds' husband led the four of them into the basement of the house.

After staying five minutes, Jim shook her hand and said, "Thank you," before continuing on his drive home to Pennsylvania, she said.

The worst damage was sustained by the Crabb family's two-story brick Colonial at 27 Steeplechase Lane. The storm peeled off the roof, knocked down the chimney, and left insulation hanging like Spanish moss from a tree and draped along a white picket fence broken by the storm.

A Bronco that had been parked in the driveway was picked up, spun around and dropped in the back yard. Patches of the deck railing were blown off. Tree branches dug deep ruts into the back yard as they skidded to a stop.

State police said the damage made the home uninhabitable, and neighbors said the family was being put up by an employer last night.

Brian Schweers was standing in his home two doors from No. 27, thinking about his aunt who lives near La Plata, when the dark clouds traveled down the highway, stopped and began to swirl.

"This doesn't look good," he said to his wife, Jeannine, who rushed their 6-year-old son, Nicholas, and the family dog to the basement. Jeannine Schweers said she heard the funnel cloud "whooshing" on the way down, and her ears began to pop.

"I watched the clouds go nuts and then we grabbed the cats and dogs and then ran into the cellar. Everything started to twist and that's all I wanted to watch," said the Schweerses' next-door neighbor, Ed Knorr, who rushed to safety with his wife and children.

About 5:30 p.m. in the Baltimore metropolitan area, the storm cut off power to about 4,000 BGE customers. By late last night, power had been restored to nearly all of them.

It was a long day of watches and warnings for Marylanders left wary after the destruction caused in La Plata on Sunday by a historic F5 tornado.

Thunderstorms and heavy rains struck before dawn, dropping as much as 1.6 inches of water in some locations. They erupted along a collision zone between warm, moist air from the tropics and a cold front moving southeast out of the upper Midwest.

On Wednesday, the same storm front had produced heavy rains, flooding, large hail and eight tornadoes in Illinois and Kentucky.

At 10:14 a.m. yesterday, the weather service issued a flash-flood watch for 13 Maryland counties, warning that rainfall as heavy as 2 inches per hour was possible in some places.

At 2:30 p.m., a tornado watch was broadcast for most of the state. A line of thunderstorms stretched from Montgomery County in Maryland south to southern Virginia, headed northeast. Some seemed poised to cross the Potomac into tornado-battered Charles County.

At 3:25 p.m., forecasters began putting out a series of severe-thunderstorm warnings for counties in the storms' path, in Maryland and southern Pennsylvania. Such storms can spawn tornadoes, often with little warning.

One storm crossed the state between 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Traveling at more than 45 mph, it struck in Montgomery, Howard, Baltimore and Harford counties, producing brief, heavy rains and pea-sized hail in downtown Baltimore. But no tornadoes.

Staff writer Johnathon E. Briggs contributed to this article.

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