Straight line of destruction

By on March 2, 2017

 

Tornado-force 95 mph winds ravage Clay, West Cocalico Townships

By Patrick Burns

“Take Cover! Severe Thunderstorm Warning continues for Ephrata and Leola until 4:15 p.m.!”

That was the Tweet posted by the National Weather Service State College Saturday at 3:53 p.m. But by that time residents in parts of Clay, Elizabeth and West Cocalico townships believed a tornado had already touched down.!! ER Ephrata Baseball District Champs June 2

The storm, which officials say caused $7 million in damages, destroyed or heavily damaged 22 farm buildings and downed hundreds of trees — some of which fell on homes and other structures — hit the area at about 3:30 p.m.

The National Weather Service has confirmed a “microburst” of “straight line” wind damage. That explanation was confusing to many of the people who suffered damage or whose neighborhood streets were closed from downed trees, telephone poles, and wires which cut power and cable TV services.

Melissa “Missi” Mortimer, who praised local firefighters, especially Durlach Mt. Airy Fire Company, which went from home to home checking on residents in the hilly area where out-of-the neighborhood gawkers bloated already congested roads following the storm late Saturday afternoon.

Melissa Mortimer of Clay Township photographed the remains of this building Sunday.

Melissa Mortimer of Clay Township photographed the remains of this building Sunday.

Mortimer, who has lived with her family between the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Hopeland Road for 19 years, had been grilling on the deck and celebrating her mother-in-law’s birthday party just prior to the storm.

“It was completely calm about 10 minutes before the storm hit. My son came running saying it sounds like a freight train is coming,” she said before the family took shelter in the basement. “When the sky turned green we knew it was going to be bad.”

Mortimer said the family has witnessed its fair shares of spectacular thunder storms “come over the mountain” and often bring down trees and branches. “We never even thought that a tornado would happen,” she said despite being alerted on her smart phone. “I’ve lived in York and Lancaster County my whole life and I’ve never seen a tornado.

This is the first time we’ve experienced that.” Despite the incredible damage isolated in a relatively small area, storm experts continue to resist labeling it a tornado.

Eric Horst, of the Millersville University Weather Information Center, on Tuesday affirmed once again that while the damage yielded was from equivalent of tornado-force winds, it was straight winds that caused the $7 million in damages.

“The National Weather Service experts did their survey confirming the damage was from 90 mile-per-hour straightline winds. which produce the same damage as EF1 tornado,” he said.

Resident Angela Storm respectfully disagreed with the weather experts and publicly challenged their findings on the Ephrata Review Facebook page Monday.

“I think the person who tells you if it was a tornado or not needs to listen to the people who live up here,” she wrote. “We heard it and saw it was a tornado not…heavy wind.

Even the fire chief who lives across the street from me saw it from were he was again they need to listen to the people who went through it.” Randy Gockley, director Lancaster County Emergency Management Agency, confirmed that the damage area spread to the west by Mountain Spring and Kleinfeltersville roads and along the east to Girl Scout Road.

The widest section of the damage was north-south, running from  Middle Creek Waterfowl Reservoir south to the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Elliott Pfautz, of Key-Aid Ace Hardware, 1739 W. Main St., shared store camera footage of the storm hitting the building head on. It shows fire pits, lawn chairs and even a wheel barrel blown around like newspaper pages.

Photo by Les Martzall Here you can see two barns that were destroyed on neighboring farms along Route 897 just west of Blainesport. Also, the metal top on the middle silo was also blown off. This silo top destruction occurred on many farms in this particular area, causing sheet metal to be strewn about many of the local meadows.

Photo by Les Martzall Here you can see two barns that were destroyed on neighboring farms along Route 897 just west of Blainesport. Also, the metal top on the middle silo was also blown off. This silo top destruction occurred on many farms in this particular area, causing sheet metal to be strewn about many of the local meadows.

“It’s a pretty amazing video that has been picked up all over — even overseas,” he said. “It even knocked over our “Big Green Egg” grill which weighs 170 pounds.”

The store stayed open late Saturday to accommodate customers affected by the storm. “We are very thankful that there were no reported injuries and our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to those still dealing with the aftermath,” he said.

A pair of roosters lingered Tuesday amid the debris of their former home while fire burned behind them at a property owned by the Denlinger family at 190 Project Drive.

A small army of workers busily cleaned the remains of a destroyed chicken house on the property. The scene appeared to confuse the roosters which stood face to face, barely moving.

Michael Denlinger, 48, told LNP on Sunday the storm hit while he was in one of the family’s two chicken houses. He eventually slid under his GMC truck for cover and laid there as the storm raged for about six minutes.

“I’m a praying man, so I was praying. I did think about my family in the house, and I knew they were fine,” he said. “But yea, it is one of those things. You never know if it was your last moments here or not.”

Photo by Kirk Neidermyer shows debris and a trailer cover a yard and a roof is blown from a residence along Route 897 in Denver.

Photo by Kirk Neidermyer shows debris and a trailer cover a yard and a roof is blown from a residence along Route 897 in Denver.

 

 

Denlinger had removed about 12,000 chickens on Thursday before Saturday’s storm destroyed the house where the rooster mingled on Tuesday. The family moved the chickens to a second chicken house, which holds 14,000 chickens nearby, which was not damaged in the storm.

Nearby residents are still puzzled how a storm strong enough to completely destroy a chicken house wasn’t a tornado.

The official NWS record states “All damage surveyed was blown in a straight line from the southwest (210 degrees) to the northeast. Numerous trees were toppled and snapped, there was damage to roofing, siding and trim on homes, and dozen or so farms sustained substantial damage to barn roofs and silos.”

Stunning images captured by Rocky Spitler prior to the damaging storm arriving at approximately 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The photos were taken while heading west on Furnace Hill Road in West Cocalico Township.

Stunning images  by Rocky Spitler prior to the damaging storm arriving at approximately 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The photo was taken while heading west on Furnace Hill Rd. in West Cocalico.

For reference, a microburst is defined as “a convective downdraft with an affected outflow area of less than 2.5 miles wide and peak winds lasting less than five minutes.”

Microbursts may induce dangerous horizontal and vertical wind shears which tend to cause property damage. Straight-line winds differ from a

tornado generally since those winds are not associated with rotation. Straight-line wind is wind that comes out of a thunderstorm.

If these winds meet or exceed 58 miles per hours then the storm is classified as severe by the National Weather Service. These winds are produced by the downward momentum in the downdraft region of a thunderstorm.

Photo by Jeffrey Martin A downed tree on a power line near Hopeland.

Photo by Jeffrey Martin A downed tree on a power line near Hopeland.

(SEE VIDEO BELOW)

Gockley said a helicopter flyover showed the trees all laying down in the same direction from Elizabeth to West Cocalico townships. “A tornado would have torn trees apart,” he said. “It clearly didn’t have cyclonic wind effect.”

While the storm caused anguish, grief and suffering for residents whose homes and property were damaged, it also brought out the compassionate side of hundreds of area residents looking to help clean up and repair.

For instance, students from Ephrata Mennonite School took the day to help several property owners clean up along Route 897 in the West Cocalico Township on Monday. Margaret Kidhardt and Sue Busby noted the community spirit on Facebook Monday.

“Prayers to all who suffered from the terrible storm on Saturday,” Kidhardt wrote. “What a great thing for (Ephrata Mennonite) school to do.” “Many more youngsters should take part in their community like this. Nice to see help and improvement in their hometown,” noted Busby.

Patrick Burns is social media editor and staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns. eph@lnpnews.com or at 721- 455.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Social media editor and staff writer for Ephrata Review and Lititz Record Express.

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