Strong storms sweep Tri-State area

Gusts brought down several trees and limbs around Hagerstown

Franklin County, Pa. 'nailed pretty hard'

July 18, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE |
  • Hagerstown Public Works employees Gary Seavolt and Eric Webber discuss the best way to clear Park Lane in Hagerstown after a large tree limb fell during Wednesday's storm.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

A strong line of thunderstorms swept through the Tri-State area Wednesday afternoon, producing high winds that temporarily knocked out power to thousands of people in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Winds began picking up in Hagerstown around 2:30 p.m. as the storm blew in from the northwest.

The highest gust recorded in Hagerstown was 48 mph, according to local weather observer Greg Keefer’s website,

The gusts brought down several trees and limbs around Hagerstown, which affected one electric circuit in the North End of the city, said Michael Spiker, director of Hagerstown’s utility department.

The affected circuit disrupted power to about 1,386 customers, Spiker said. All but about 100 residents had their power restored by 4:15 p.m., he said.

Temperatures also plummeted as the low-pressure system moved through Washington County, dropping 25 degrees in about two hours, from 97.5 degrees to 72.3 degrees as of 3:54 p.m., according to the website.


Keefer measured the heat index at 111 degrees at 1:15 p.m., but that figure dipped by more than 30 degrees into the mid-70s after the storms passed.

Severe thunderstorm watches and warnings were issued for much of the region, and a tornado watch was in effect for Franklin County, Pa., until 3:45 p.m. Wednesday.

The Franklin County, Pa., area was hit the hardest by power outages, totaling 2,738 customers without power as of 4:35 p.m., according to information on FirstEnergy’s website.

At the same time, 1,449 Potomac Edison customers in Washington County and another 2,029 customers in Frederick County, Md., were affected, the website showed.

Greg Hefner, manager of external affairs for FirstEnergy, said a little more than 2,200 Potomac Edison customers throughout the Tri-State area were still experiencing outages at about 9 p.m. Wednesday due to significant lightning and sustaining winds.

“We anticipate the majority of the customers that are out will be restored by (Thursday) evening,” he said, however “there is always a possibility” that some customers might be without power longer.

Hefner said winds in some areas reached 60 mph, but he could not provide exact locations where those gusts were measured. The winds caused “pretty significant damage” to the company’s distribution systems, he said.

“We have crews out working and they’ll work throughout the night,” Hefner said, “And we’ll hit it hard again tomorrow.”

The majority of outages Wednesday evening were in Franklin County, Pa., with 1,276 customers, or about 2 percent, still without power as of 9 p.m., according to the website.

Fewer than 1 percent of customers in Washington and Frederick counties were experiencing outages, while only 11 outages were reported in Berkeley and Morgan counties in West Virginia, the website showed. No outages were reported in Jefferson County.

A lightning strike in Washington County resulted in a minor house fire in Smithsburg, according to a fire official.

Chuck Johnson, deputy chief of the Smithsburg Community Volunteer Fire Co., said lightning struck the roof of a town house at 3 Orndorff Drive off East Water Street about 3:14 p.m. when the storms rolled in, but firefighters were able to contain the resulting fire to the attic.

Other damage to the home included a hole that had to be cut in the roof by firefighters, Johnson said.

No one was home when lighting struck the town house and the strike was reported by a neighbor who saw smoke, he said.

In Frederick County, there were numerous reports of downed tree limbs and power lines in the Lewistown, Emmitsburg and Thurmont areas, as well as two reported vehicle accidents on major roadways as rains hit the area between 3 and 4 p.m., according to a 911 dispatcher.

Franklin County, Pa., 911 dispatchers said they received numerous calls for wires and trees down throughout the county Wednesday. One dispatcher said the entire county “got nailed pretty hard,” but there was no property damage.

By 6:30 p.m., things had quieted down, dispatchers said.

Minimal power outages and incidents related to the storms were being reported in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties as of about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, as another less-powerful storm cell appeared to be moving toward those areas.

“We’ve been very blessed so far,” a Morgan County dispatcher said.

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