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Storm leaves damage in its wake

May 26, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION and RICHARD F. BELISLE

charlestown@herald-mail.com

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

The spinning mass of clouds Shirley Nichols saw outside her Jefferson County, W.Va., home Tuesday afternoon likely was not a tornado, but it was enough to get Nichols and her neighbors talking.

Shortly after 6 p.m., Nichols said she looked to the north from her house at 183 Fifth St. in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va., and saw a large mass of clouds spinning in the sky as it moved to the east.

A brief hail storm that dropped hail the size of marbles moved ahead of the mass, Nichols said.

Nichols said the mass of clouds was unusual because in addition to the gray color in it, there were shades of blue and pink.

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"I went back in the house. I got scared. I was all by myself," Nichols said.

Ronald Smoot, who lives a few doors down, said he was not sure what the mass of clouds was.

When a weather forecaster on a television station began talking about the possibility of a tornado forming in the area, Smoot said he figured that's what it was.

As the mass of clouds passed, there was a sound like thunder, Smoot said. But unlike thunder, the rumbling sound continued, he said.

"I've never heard it like that," Smoot said.

There were strong radar indications that a tornado was forming over the western part of the county near Shenandoah Junction, said David Manning, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

But technically, it cannot be called a tornado until it touches the ground, Manning said.

Despite the observations by Nichols and Smoot, no reports of a tornado were made in Jefferson County, or nearby Berkeley and Morgan counties, Manning said.

It is possible local residents saw a funnel cloud, although it is impossible to determine if one was in the area, Manning said.

When radar indicated that a tornado possibly was forming, 911 dispatchers began urging people to take cover.

Emergency dispatchers in Berkeley and Morgan counties warned residents of a possible severe thunderstorm and it was believed that a funnel cloud might be forming near the Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management area, which stretches across the Berkeley and Morgan County line, dispatchers said.

There was no storm damage in Berkeley and Morgan counties, dispatchers said.

In Franklin County, Pa., lightning struck a furniture manufacturing plant in Southampton Township, igniting a fire that destroyed the building, and hit the roof of a house south of Greencastle, Pa., causing major damage, fire officials said.

Damage was estimated at $400,000 in the family-owned furniture company building, a two-story brick structure that once served as a chicken coop, said Justin Martin, deputy chief of the West End fire and Rescue Co., in Shippensburg, Pa.

The deputy chief said the business was owned by a Mennonite family.

He said at least six people worked in the factory. Two were inside when the lightning struck at about 5:20 p.m.

It took about 85 firefighters from Franklin and Cumberland counties to bring the fire under control.

Lightning struck a home at 12462 Randy Drive off Williamsport Pike south of Greencastle, shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday, destroying two upstairs bedrooms, a bathroom and part of the attic and roof, Dave Hann, first lieutenant of Rescue Hose Co., said.

No one was home in the house when the fire started, Hann said. It was locked and firefighters had to break in to get to the fire, he said. Flames went through the roof, he said.

The home is owned by Dave Friedrich, Hann said. Four people lived in the house.

Crews from Rescue Hose Co. also responded to an accident in Greencastle, south of Exit 5 on Interstate 81. A tractor-trailer ran into the grassy median and turned over.

Emergency services personnel said there were no injuries in that crash. Pennsylvania State Police in Chambersburg, Pa., said traffic was reduced to one lane in the northbound lane.

At one point, a state trooper was leading a long line of traffic in both lanes past the wreck.

Franklin County dispatchers said they received numerous reports of flooding and trees down throughout the county.

As of about 9 p.m. Tuesday, about 300 customers in Waynesboro, Pa., were without power, Allegheny Energy spokesman Allen Staggers said.

In Frederick County, Md., approximately 2,100 customers were without power, Staggers said.

If there were power outages in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, there weren't a lot, Staggers said.

With the large number of outages spread over the region, Staggers said there might be some customers without power overnight.

Staff writer Julie E. Greene contributed to this story.

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