NWS: Sunday’s storm likely featured straight-line winds
There is no denying strong storms blew through Warren County on Sunday.
However, the evidence does not point to tornadoes.
There were reports of two tornadoes — one in the area of Chapman Dam Road and Farnsworth Road in Mead Township, and the other at the tailwaters of Kinzua Dam on the Glade Township side — on Sunday.
The National Weather Service (NWS) asked Warren County Public Safety to evaluate the damages, looking for confirmation of tornadic activity.
“Initially, when we get an event like this, the emergency manager goes out and takes a look at the damage,” NWS Meteorologist Aaron Tyburski said Monday. “We train the emergency manager on what to look for. We work with them. We trust their opinion.”
On Monday, Warren County Lead Telecommunicator Ken McCorrison and Public Safety Deputy Director Scott Rose visited the reported areas and spoke with witnesses.
One eyewitness, who was working Sunday at a property along Chapman Dam Road when the storms rolled through, said the event did not look like a funnel. “It was like a big ball,” the man, who asked not to be identified, said.
As he was driving away from the storm toward safety, small trees “were coming down. I was hitting them with the front of my truck, pushing them out of the way because I didn’t want to get stuck,” he said.
Along Farnsworth, a crew from Sheffield Timber was removing trees that were blocking the road on Monday. Among the many trees that were downed, there were no clear examples of twisting damage.
McCorrison and Rose, both of whom have been trained in storm damage recognition by the NWS, said they were confident the damage at both reported sightings was not caused by tornadoes.
“They’re going to call this straight-line winds,” McCorrison said.
When Rose detailed the local findings to the NWS Monday afternoon, he described the eyewitness account of the storm appearing like a ball.
The meteorologist said that description could fit a wet microburst — a strong, but short-lived event with heavy rain and strong, downward wind.
“When a down-burst comes down, it’s going to curl out in all directions,” Tyburski said. “You’ll get a curl in the precipitation.”
That there were probably no tornadoes does not mean the storm was less damaging.
“Sometimes people might think, ‘It had to be a tornado, look at all the damage,'” Tyburski said. “The straight-line winds can cause more damage.”
If the storm is generating 50 mile-per-hour gusts and the storm itself is moving at 30 miles-per-hour, those add up. Winds in the 80-mile-per-hour range can uproot trees.
When the indicators point to straight-line wind damage, the NWS does not typically send personnel to investigate, Tyburski said. “If we’re pretty confident it was straight-line winds, we’ll go with that.”
If there is evidence of tornadic activity, even if it comes after initial reports indicate straight-line-wind damage, the agency will send people to the scene.
“All we’re looking for is the debris being in a circular pattern or lying over itself,” Tyburski said.