HAGERSTOWN — Tornado warnings had area residents taking cover Thursday evening as a train of severe thunderstorms rumbled through the Tri-State area, causing power outages and flash flooding.
And today could prove just as scary, with more thunderstorms, some potentially severe, forecast to come this way, a National Weather Service spokesman said.
No twisters were reported to have touched down Thursday, but in Franklin and Fulton counties (Pa.), a tornado warning remained in effect until about 7 p.m., and a tornado watch remained in effect until 10 p.m., the National Weather Service said.
Hail as big as baseballs pelted the area, and winds were strong enough to blow over a southbound tractor-trailer on Interstate 81, closing the right lane for more than three hours and causing a two-mile traffic backup at one point, Pennsylvania State Police said. Police said the rig rolled over near Exit 10 at Marion, Pa.
Emergency services and fire departments across the region were busy answering calls for downed trees, arcing power lines and other storm-related damage Thursday night.
When the storms hit the area, a strong rotation was detected in the severe thunderstorm system making its way north, said Kevin Witt, a weather service meteorologist in Sterling, Va.
That meant a tornado might have already been on the ground or was expected to develop, the weather service said.
Residents were warned to take cover inside when the alert was issued by the weather service at 5:07 p.m.
"This is still a very serious event," Meteorologist Bruce Budd with the National Weather Service in State College, Pa. said after the first tornadic cell had moved through the area. "If you can hear thunder or see lightning, you should get to safety."
"And we are not out of the woods just yet," Witt said. "Tomorrow will be an interesting day as these storms are moving slowly through the area."
Witt said most of the reports surrounding the storms Thursday were for hail and high winds. In Washington County, hail up to 2 3/4 inches in diameter was reported, he said.
In Berkeley County, W.Va., winds as high as 51 mph were reported he said.
For any potentially tornadic storm, the weather service advises not to wait to hear or see the tornado before taking cover.
"Move to an interior room on the lowest level of a sturdy building. Put as many walls between you and the outside as you can. Avoid windows. Protect yourself from flying debris," a weather service alert said.
Witt said multiple storm cells moved through the area Thursday, with the weather service issuing the first tornado warning at about 5 p.m.
At about 6:20 p.m., Franklin County Emergency Services issued an alert to residents through its South Central Alert System that tornadoes were forecast.
According to the alert, Mercersburg, Fort Loudon, Greencastle, Chambersburg and Shippensburg in Pennsylvania were in the projected path of the potential tornadoes.
Witt said there was a second tornadic cell that made its way north through Virginia Thursday. While that cell weakened as it moved north, it intensified enough to pose the threat of high winds and hail when it reached the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia later in the evening, he said.
By 9 p.m. Thursday night, Witt said the worst appeared to be over.
As the storm passed through the Tri-state area there were scattered outages reported on the Allegheny Power Outage Management System.
In Franklin and Fulton counties, more than 4,000 customers were without power. About 1,800 customers in Washington County lost power, while about 600 customers in the Eastern Panhandle were also in the dark, the website said.
Mark Nitowski, spokesman for Potomac Edison, said crews would be working throughout the night to restore power to customers. By 9 p.m., he said power had been restored to about half of the customers in Washington County who experienced outages.
"We feel we can have the bulk of these back on by midnight but some residents might not have power until tomorrow morning," he warned.
Pa. water rescue
A flash-flood warning was in effect for Franklin and Fulton counties until 11 p.m., the weather service said.
Emergency vehicles responded to a water rescue on west Commerce Street in Chambersburg after torrential rains and hail swept through the area.
Franklin Fire Co. Chief Mark Trace said a man and woman were trapped in their car by a flash food.
"One (female) was laying on top of the roof, and another (male) was sitting on the lip of the window," Trace said.
Trace said his company requested assistance from Fayetteville Squad 7 and Washington County Special Operations 20 in case boats were needed.
But Fayetteville Squad 7 members were able to walk the man and woman through the 4 1/2 feet of water, Trace said.
"They put safety vests on the man and the woman and used tag lines to get them back to shore," he said.
The car is still in the water and the road is closed to traffic.
The occupants of the car were taken to the Chambersburg Hospital for evaluation, Trace said.
"If you see water across the road, don't drive into it," Trace said. "You don't know if the road is washed away. You cannot tell how deep it is. You cannot tell how fast it's moving. You don't know what's floating in the water."
— Staff Writer Roxann Miller contributed to this story.