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Witnesses say they saw Pa. twister

June 17, 1998|By DON AINES

by Cathi Young

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Tree in lines

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. - The National Weather Service hasn't determined whether a tornado touched down in McConnellsburg on Tuesday evening, but witnesses had little doubt.

Those who were at Lions Club Park said a funnel cloud touched down, sending scores of people scrambling.

Debbie Buterbaugh, the Red Cross disaster coordinator in Fulton County, was at the field watching her daughter's softball game. She was talking to a firefighter who was directing traffic for an ambulance that had been called for a girl who had suffered a seizure.

"I had my back to the ballfields ... He said, 'Oh my God, Deb. Look at that,'" Buterbaugh, of McConnellsburg, said Wednesday.

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"You could see it go up through the woods and up through the housing development. It was definitely a funnel cloud of some sort," she said.

The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning at 6:08 p.m. Tuesday. The storm hit at 6:45 p.m., according to Buterbaugh.

Lisa Sherman, deputy emergency management coordinator for Fulton County, surveyed the damage Tuesday night and returned Wednesday morning with an official from the National Weather Service in State College, Pa.

tree cemetery"He thinks it's something called a 'gustnado' with winds of more than 100 miles an hour," Sherman said Wednesday.

"It's a very weak tornado embedded in straight-line winds," National Weather Service Meteorologist Rick Winther said Wednesday of a gustnado. He said such storms are relatively common in the hilly and mountainous areas of Pennsylvania.

Sherman said the official that surveyed the damage told her it would take a few days to determine whether a tornado touched down.

Buterbaugh said the funnel cloud passed through the parking lot of the Penns Village Shopping Center, across Pa. 16 and into the Fulton County Fairgrounds. Illuminated signs at the entrance of the shopping center were blown out.

Sherman said the winds tore part of the metal roof from a milking parlor at the fairgrounds, uprooted several trees and knocked down power lines. She said there were no reports of injuries or other serious property damage.

"It was pretty much mayhem ... Everybody yelling 'tornado,'" said Steve Truax, who was raking the basepaths at one of the fields Wednesday. He was coaching the Little League Orioles when the storm hit.

"You could see big hunks of branches swirling. You could see a roof lift off one of the buildings" at the fairgrounds, he said.

Buterbaugh and Truax said four or five games were being played when the funnel cloud touched down at the adjacent fairgrounds. Truax said the storm sent players, parents and spectators running for cover.

Then, in about a minute, it was all over, he said.

Gary Shoemaker of McConnellsburg was working on the front porch of a house Wednesday as part of a home improvement project, not repairing storm damage. On Tuesday, he was playing softball at the park.

"I've never seen anything like that in my life and I hope I never do again," he said.

Co-worker Mike Henry Jr. of McConnellsburg was there, too. Amid the train-like roar of the wind, he said he could hear the metal roof buckling as it twisted through the air.

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