Possible tornadoes hit Arundel

Storm downs trees and power lines in parts of Severna Park

September 29, 2006|By Phillip McGowan and Anica Butler | Phillip McGowan and Anica Butler,SUN REPORTERS

Two apparent tornadoes touched down in Anne Arundel County last night, downing trees and power lines but causing no injuries, authorities said.

The abundance of the damage occurred in the lower Magothy Beach area of Severna Park - on North and South drives and Hemingway Lane, said Rhonda Wardlaw, a spokeswoman for Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens.

"We have two confirmed touchdowns," Wardlaw said.

About 20 homes were damaged by downed trees - 11 of those deemed uninhabitable, said Pam Jordan, a spokeswoman for the county emergency operations center. She said the Red Cross was assisting affected families with housing and other services.

Authorities were working last night to assess damage and had blocked off several streets while attempting to clear downed, but live, power lines and debris from roadways.

A downed tree also apparently severed the gas line of a home on Whittier Parkway, where fire officials cordoned off the street. By 9 p.m., the imminent threat had passed, but a chemical odor from gas permeated the air.

Nearly 15,000 customers were without power last night in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, according to BGE.

The National Weather Service confirmed tornadic activity - accompanied by heavy rains and thunderstorms - in Anne Arundel County, and said a trained spotter had seen a tornado in Severna Park about 6:35 p.m.

While wind speed in the areas of worst damage was unknown last night, a trained spotter's equipment recorded a gust reaching 66 mph at 6:09 p.m. near U.S. 50 in Bowie, where dime-size hail also was reported, the weather service said.

Other area damage included trees downed in Howard County's Lisbon area, and in a storm several hours earlier, trees and power lines downed in the Boring area of Baltimore County.

Rain amounts varied widely - about three-quarters of an inch measured at The Sun's monitoring station near Centre Street, and as much as 3 inches in northern Baltimore County, according to the weather service.

The weather front associated with the storms was moving over the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland late last night.

A weather service survey team was to be dispatched to the area today to inspect damage and determine whether it was the result of tornadoes.

"Radar showed storm rotation ... and that indicates a strong possibility of a tornado," said Richard Hitchens, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va. "We're pretty confident that there was a tornado there."

The sight of a funnel cloud in the area brought frightening accounts from several witnesses who described seeing one carrying trash, tree limbs and other debris and traveling east near Ritchie Highway about 7 p.m.

Two teenagers were riding in a car south on Ritchie Highway (Route 2) when they saw a funnel cloud form at the intersection with Route 648 in Severna Park.

"I could see the transformers blowing out as it touched down," said James Porter, 19.

Porter said he wanted to follow it, but the driver, Chris Hawkins, thought better of pursing the funnel cloud.

"I was freaked out," said Hawkins, also 19. "I didn't want the wind to pick up my car."

Jen Edmonston, 38, of Severna Park said she was having dinner with her boyfriend, Scott Kinder, 41, at a restaurant near her Emerson Court home when she saw the funnel cloud and heard the windows rattling. "I was hysterical," Edmonston said.

On her street, downed trees damaged homes and cars and littered yards.

At the Severna Park MarketPlace shopping center, shopping cart corrals were blown apart or crumpled, and carts scattered.

Olive Bump, 86, who lives on Sunset Drive in Severna Park, said she was in her kitchen about 6:30 p.m. preparing dinner when the heavy rains and wind summoned her to the window.

"All of a sudden these gusts came along," Bump said. "It really scares you. You don't know what was going to happen."

She said some of her neighbors reported trees felled in their yards.

"I saw the wind came up all of a sudden," Bump said. "And it was blowing very hard and my trees bent way over. It made a real loud noise. I didn't hear the train that they talk about, but it was very, very - the wind - was very, very strong."

On Lower Magothy Beach Road, downed power lines and an exploded transformer box blocked access to a waterfront neighborhood where Cattail Creek flow into the Magothy River.

Dave Morgan, 49, said furniture was blowing around on the deck of his home on nearby South Drive, and he stepped outside and saw a twister. "It looked like a rain cloud that was spinning, and there was a roar like a train coming through."

He said the power went out as the storm blew through.

Christine Watkowski, 18, also of South Drive, said she saw "big bursts of pink and orange" when the transformer blew.

Nearly a dozen cars were lined up on Lower Magothy Beach Road, their occupants waiting for the wires and debris to be cleared so they could get home.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com anica.butler@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Nicole Fuller contributed to this article.

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