A storm cell packing winds of up to 60 mph, heavy rain and 1-inch hailstones tore through Harford County yesterday evening, toppling trees onto roads and houses, disabling traffic lights and cutting power to homes and businesses.
About 6:15 p.m., the storm - spawned by a weak cold front over the northern Mid-Atlantic states - hit the county and might have been the source of a tornado, said Andy Woodcock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.
While reports of a tornado sighted at or near Fallston Middle School had not been confirmed, "something happened out there," said Woodcock, adding that weather service investigators were to examine damage before determining whether a tornado touched down.
He said the storm contained "rotations," which is a sign of a tornado.
"The Fallston area really got hammered," said Lt. Duane Williams of the Harford County Sheriff's Office.
No injuries were reported, said Rich Gardiner of the Harford County Emergency Operations Center.
Firefighters from several county fire stations were pressed into service.
More than 20 trees fell in Fallston and Bel Air, blocking roads and snarling rush-hour traffic, Williams said. Fallen trees blocked sections of Harford and Hess roads, and heavy rain prompted a flash-flood warning, the lieutenant said.
A few motorists reported being trapped in their cars, he said.
Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. reported that out of nearly 100,000 Harford County customers, the storm knocked out service to fewer than 5,000. Crews were expected to work overnight restoring power to homes and businesses.
On Stratford Road in Fallston, Nestor Alejo, 47, worked to clear the remains of several large trees in his yard that had split down the middle and fallen like dominoes. He and his neighbors had dragged the trees from the road, where they had blocked traffic.
"If anybody needs firewood, come get it now," Alejo said jokingly.
Alejo, whose home was left without electricity, ran a generator outside.
With power out and darkness falling, Stratford Road residents walked outside, checking the damage. They said the storm progressed quickly from drizzle to heavy rain - at times seeming to fall horizontally. Many described the snapping sound of trees.
Dan Setree was on his porch when he saw the storm's ferocity. "I saw both trees snap," he said. "That's when I ran back downstairs [to take cover.] It was the strongest storm I've experienced in this neighborhood."
No one was at home when one house became perhaps the most-damaged on Stratford Road. Several trees in the yard fell, sending branches through the bedroom and bathroom ceilings. Siding was ripped off, exposing wood beneath.
Michael Essers, 20, whose parents live in the home, said that although the house was damaged, his father, an engineer, would be happy that an elaborate garden shed he had built to code was undamaged. He said they had joked that the cottagelike shed would still be standing when the house was not.
State police at the Benson barracks at U.S. 1, south of Bel Air, said trees were knocked down in their immediate area and that motorists were having a hard time getting around the obstructions. Harford County road crews were removing the fallen trees while police redirected traffic.
Police said last night that U.S. 1 at Harford Road near the barracks and Belair Road near Mountain Road remained closed. The roads were expected to be reopened this morning, police said.
Woodcock said brief but heavy rain caused flooding in low-lying areas of the county.
He said the storm passed through the county quickly and by 7 p.m. was over the Chesapeake Bay and heading toward the Eastern Shore, Delaware and New Jersey.
No damage or injuries were reported as the storm left the state.
The storm had made a harmless pass in northern Baltimore County before hitting Harford County.
A Baltimore County Fire Department dispatcher said radar showed the storm passing through Cockeysville and Monkton but that there were no reports of serious damage.
Baltimore County police reported that two roads were partially blocked by trees about 6:45 p.m. - in the 1100 block of Corbett Road east of Hereford Middle School and south of the intersection of Old York and Troyer roads.
Sun reporters Josh Mitchell and Julie Scharper contributed to this article.