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Storm's aftermath

May 27, 2004|by ANDREW MASON and HEATHER C. SMATHERS

andrews@herald-mail.com

heathers@herald-mail.com

There was speculation Wednesday that a storm that ripped through Washington County a day earlier may have spawned a tornado.

"At this station, funnel clouds were spotted," Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer wrote on his Web site.

But a meteorologist for AccuWeather said Wednesday there was no evidence a tornado had touched down.

What Washington County might have avoided, neighboring Frederick County, Md., apparently did not.

AccuWeather meteorologist Mike McAuliffe said a tornado 50 yards wide touched down seven miles west of Thurmont at 5:56 p.m. Tuesday. It was in the wind speed category of 40 to 72 mph, which is the weakest, he said.

The peak wind speed recorded at Hagerstown Regional Airport was 45 mph at 5:30 p.m., McAuliffe said.

"There may have been gusts over 50 in parts of the city," he said.

The National Weather Service was scheduled to send someone to Washington County on Wednesday to study the storm damage for signs of a tornado. No one could be reached at the National Weather Service on Wednesday night, so information on whether a determination had been made was not available.

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Whatever came through Washington County was damaging.

By the time the storm blew out of the area, nearly an inch of rain had fallen, along with some hail.

Approximately 4,100 Allegheny Power customers were without power in Washington County, with most of the outages in the Leitersburg and Hancock areas, Allegheny Power spokesman Allen Staggers said.

By 9 p.m. Wednesday, approximately 100 customers remained without power, many of them in the Leitersburg area, Staggers said.

Mike Spiker, who manages Hagerstown's light department, said 2,000 city customers lost power from the storm. Power was restored to all but 30 customers by Wednesday morning. All power was expected to be restored by sometime Wednesday night.

Spiker said storm-related costs could be about $27,500, covering overtime and equipment.

"We've had much more damage than we had in (Tropical Storm) Isabel," which cost the department about $22,000, he said.

Across the area Wednesday, residents, road crews and municipal work crews were cleaning up from the storm, which uprooted trees and knocked down tree limbs and power lines.

Hagerstown and Washington County officials said the storm would cost them thousands of dollars.

Hagerstown Administrative Services Director John Budesky said removing and disposing of trees that fell at City Park would cost thousands of dollars. It could be two weeks before the work is done and the costs are tallied, he said.

Road crews in Hagerstown and Washington County cleared roads of tree trunks and branches Wednesday.

Some officials said the storm could have been worse.

County Highway Director Ted Wolford said he didn't think his department would have to pay more than $2,000 in overtime, but said the unexpected work "takes us from other things we could and should be doing ... so it is a cost."

When Bruce and Pat Dick returned to their home on Shahan Road, off Leitersburg Pike, they found a mess.

"The road had been cleared by the neighbors, so we were able to get to our house," Bruce Dick said.

He said he lost two trees in his yard and the top of a third. Now he needs to clear them away.

Roger Bushey, who lives nearby, found trees in his yard, too.

Bushey said he was driving on Interstate 70 when the storm hit and had to stop in Myersville, Md., to get off the road. Hail the size of golf balls was falling and people were driving slowly, he said.

Shannon McKinley of Hancock said the storm uprooted a 75-year-old, 60-foot pine tree on her relatives' property on Weller Road.

Wanda Herr of Washington Street in Hagerstown was operating her home-based day-care center when the storm roared through. Children were frightened by the thunder, she said.

"We heard a loud boom and everybody jumped," she said.

"We came out alive," Bushey said. "I'm as happy as I can be."

Hagerstown officials said the top priority after the storm was to clear streets and alleys.

City residents can leave tree limbs in front of their properties and public works employees will collect them, the city said.

Staff writers Julie E. Greene, Gregory T. Simmons and Scott Butki contributed to this story

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