Storm leaves wide path of destruction

Voluntary groups gird for assistance requests; forecasters compare storm to Category 2 hurricane

BY JOHN PAPE | BALTIMORE | October 27, 2010

An intense storm front pushed across much of the Midwest on Tuesday, spawning as many as two dozen tornadoes, locally heavy downpours and damage from straight-line winds across several states.

Faith-based agencies such as the Christian World Relief Committee, Mennonite Disaster Service and Southern Baptist conventions in several states were monitoring the need for relief assistance.

Both the Red Cross and Salvation Army reported assisting a handful of families and individuals needed temporary after their homes were damaged by the storm.

By Wednesday, the storm system had marched into the Southeast and portions of the Atlantic Seaboard where winds demolished three homes and injured 11 people in and around the rural North Carolina community of Vale in the Appalachian foothills.

In nearby Lincoln County, a number of homes were damaged, trees were flattened, and farm buildings were destroyed by what was initially thought to be a tornado. Numerous funnels were reported across much of western North Carolina as the system moved through the region.

The storm system also triggered tornado watches along a braod path extending from eastern Maryland and the Washington, DC area through Atlanta and into portions of Mississippi.

Passengers at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport typically the nation’s busiest found themselves scrambling to find connections after their initial flights were cancelled.

Houston commuter Bruce Hornsby said he was considering getting a hotel room and waiting until Thursday to continue his trip to New York. His was one of hundreds of flights cancelled because of the storm system.

“You can look outside the airport windows and see the storm; it’s very dark and very ugly-looking. I fly at least two or three times a month on business and I’m used to flying in bad weather, but this is scary-looking,” he said. “My connecting flight was delayed, delayed and delayed until they finally cancelled it. Looking at the radar on the television monitors here in the airport, it doesn’t look promising.”

The storm front also triggered tornado watches in central North Carolina, northern and central Georgia, eastern and central Mississippi and eastern Maryland. Additionally, forecasters said the area from New Jersey and Delaware south and west to Mississippi were all at risk for possible severe storm or tornado development as the system marched slowly toward the southeast.

Although the actual frontal zone had passed, many areas behind the system were still feeling the after-effects on Wednesday. Wind gusts as high as 50 mph were being recorded at Chicago’s Midway Airport as late as 5 p.m., while the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was able to use only a single runway for most of the day. Both airports reported flight delays and numerous cancellations for a second day on Wednesday.

Patrick Hogan, spokesman for Minneapolis-St. Paul International called Wednesday “another tough day.” He said flight controllers were able to open a second runway shortly after 3 p.m., increasing the number of flights being handled.

“Now it’s a matter of catch-up. Tomorrow, hopefully, we’ll still have both runways open and be able to handle our full schedule of flights,” Hogan said.

On Tuesday, the massive storm stretched nearly 2,200 miles across the Midwest. Winds in Indiana reached 100 mph in some places.

As many as a dozen tornadoes were reported across the Hoosier State, but most of the damage apparead to have been caused by straight-line winds.

In the Indianapolis area, the storm ripped off roofs, knocked down trees, damaged homes and vehicles and destroyed a host of signs. Winds were also blamed for knocking out power to more than 60,000 customers across southern and central Indiana.

At the height of the storm, the Indianapolis International Airport measured straight-line winds of 43 mph. In the Hamilton County community of Sheridan, just north of Indianapolis, wind speeds were clocked at 70 mph.

Tornado sirens sounded in Indianapolis at 9:15 a.m. when the first severe thunderstorm warning was issued. They sounded again at 9:35 a.m. when the tornado warning was given.

All 48 stories of the Chase Tower in downtown Indianapolis were evacuated, with workers taking refuge in a basement fallout shelter.

Greenfield, a suburb east of Indianapolis, was among the hardest-hit by the storm. Homes and businesses in the community were damaged by hurricane strength winds estimated as high as 80 mph.

Kim Dunn, a resident of the Broadway Village apartments in Greenfield said she was asleep on her couch when she was awakened by a shower of broken glass. The winds had blown her patio door out, raining glass across much of her living room.

“All I know is it sounded like an explosion going off and I had stuff falling all around me. I was still half asleep and didn’t know what had happened except I was covered by debris,” Dunn said.

Apartment complex manager Robin Timmons called the aftermath of the storm “like a war zone.”

Damage to the complex included roof and siding material torn off, at least two garage doors blown in, windows shattered in numerous apartments and air conditioning units ripped out of their foundations. A barbecue grill was blown from one apartment, landing on an electric junction box some 70 feet away.

Timmons said seven occupied units were so badly damaged the residents had to be moved. Three families were moved into vacant apartments within the complex, three went to stay with family members and one was temporarily placed in an area hotel by the Red Cross.

“It felt like a tornado hit us,” Timmons said.

A National Weather Service team surveyed the area Tuesday afternoon, but said the damaged appeared to have come from straight-line winds.

No injuries were reported in Indiana, but in the Chicago suburb of Lindenhurst a woman was lucky to be alive after being impaled by a tree limb toppled by high winds.

Helen Miller, 41, was driving to work when a 60-foot oak tree fell onto her car. One of the limbs smashed through the windshield and impaled the elementary school teacher. Connie Odoms and Debbie Christiansen both came to the assistance of the trapped woman and provided first aid until paramedics could arrive.

Christiansen described the weather as “windy and rainy” when she saw the tree fall on the car. She quickly dialed 911.

“At first, I didn’t think it hit anyone, but then I saw the branch in her stomach. We just did what we could to help,” Christiansen said.

Lindhurst Fire Chief George Moravec said Miller literally survived by inches.

“A lot of times people say it missed this or that by inches. In this case, it was really true,” Moravec said. “This lady is very lucky to be alive.”

Miller’s husband, Todd, saved the tree branch after it was extricated from his wife’s abdomen.

“We’re certainly very, very fortunate; very blessed,” he said.

Winds in the Chicago area were clocked as high as 60 mph during the height of the storm, damaging trees, signs and roofs and cancelling more than 500 flights at O’Hare International Airport. At the DuPage Airport in western Chicago, winds overturned three single-engine planes.

The most serious storm damage in Illinois was reported in Will County, just southwest of Chicago. A confirmed tornado ripped the roof off a house, slightly injuring two brothers inside.

The National Weather Service said the tornado was an EF2 with a path about a mile long and 200 yards wide.

In Minnesota, high winds were blamed for at least three truck rollovers. One closed IH-35 near Albert Lea for two hours, another shut temporarily shut down State Hwy. 71 near Jackson and the third occured near the intersection of State Hwy. 52 and Dakota County Road 46 in Coates. No injuries were reported in any of the incidents.

The storm system also dumped an early-season snow on Duluth, closing schools after it was determined that the combination of snow and high winds made it too dangerous for school buses. The area around Duluth received seven to nine inches of snow.

The front also brought blizzard conditions to much of the Dakotas. Bismark experienced three inches of autumn snow, breaking the previous record of 2.4 inches and triggering a host of traffic accidents across the capital city. Winds gusts of more than 60 mph were recorded.

Near the North Dakota community of Dunn Center, 10 inches of snow was measured, while eight inches fell in Garrison and Harvey.

Tatanka Prairie on the South Dakota border clocked winds of 70 mph, while Tioga, in the state’s northwest corner, and Edgely, east of Bismark, both recorded gusts of 68 mph.

National Weather Service forecaster John Hendrickson said the outbreak of tornadoes this late in the year was “very unusual,” but added the strength of the storm system was driven by unusually low barometric pressure.

“This is a very strong, a very intense frontal system,” Hendrickson said. “The barometric pressure was as low as you typically find in a Category 3 hurricane.”

Susan Buchanan with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agreed. She said the system had a pressure reading “among the lowest we’ve ever seen in a non-tropical storm.”

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