New England may be known for its snowstorms, but it’s no stranger to other severe weather. Tuesday’s round of storms unleashed destructive winds, enormous hail, and several tornadoes south of Interstate 90. The storms have been blamed for five deaths and knocked out power to nearly 500,000 customers.
The storms erupted after a rare “moderate risk” for severe thunderstorms was declared by the National Weather Service Tuesday, the second highest level on its five-category scale. It called for “widespread damaging winds” up to 80 miles per hour as well as the chance for very large hail and a few tornadoes.
The forecast was accurate.
Hardest-hit was Connecticut, which saw at least two tornadoes touch down. A pair of supercell thunderstorms blasted through Hartford and Litchfield counties, tracking a little north of the downtown Hartford metro area. Tornado warnings were hoisted for that area just before 5 p.m.
While not officially confirmed by the Weather Service, at least two tornadoes were visible on radar through the debris they lofted. Using a product called “ correlation coefficient,” forecasters can track if and where in the atmosphere debris is located.
Several homes were destroyed in Oxford, Conn.; the Weather Service will be dispatching crews to survey and classify the damage sometime this afternoon. Also battered were Bethany, Hamden, Wallingford and Granby. Reports of damage in other locations are still being compiled.
In addition to causing sporadic tornadoes, the storm system also spawned vicious wind in Pennsylvania, New York and Southern New England. Winds hit 78 mph in Beacon, N.Y., and 81 mph in Pottstown, Pa., as the storm prompted more than 400 reports of wind damage.
While the emphasis always seems to be on tornadoes, it’s important to remember that straight-line winds can often do just as much damage as a low-end tornado. The five deaths attributed to Tuesday’s storms occurred in the same exact way — by falling trees. An 11-year-old girl was crushed to death in Newburgh, N.Y., in a vehicle. Similar scenes unfolded in Monroe, Pa., Danbury, Conn., New Fairfield, Conn., and the Poconos.
Hail was also a mega-newsmaker, reaching tennis to baseball-size in a few locales.
Retired NBC Connecticut chief meteorologist Brad Field was at his home in Granby tracking the storms on radar when the wallop first hit.
“The hail just came down suddenly like tennis balls of ice,” he said. His family found themselves in the heart of the first supercell storm that plowed through north-central Connecticut. Though he worked on Connecticut airwaves covering storms for decades as a seasoned veteran, this he found nerve-racking. “It was truly scary, just hearing the sound of the thuds hitting the house!”
The hefty chunks of ice claimed the back window of his son’s car, and stripped trees of their leaves. While his home sustained minor damage, others nearby weren’t so lucky. “One much older house in downtown Granby lost most of its siding and windows.”
As the storms departed, the setting sun combined with cloud tops reaching 64,000 feet colored the sky a brilliant orange in Boston. Many took to social media to voice their curiosity.
Tuesday’s severe weather comes just two days after the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, confirmed a previously unreported tornado from May 4. The twister tracked a 35-mile-long path through rural New Hampshire and left damage that seemed to hide for more than a week. It has since been rated an EF-1 on its nearly continuous path. Meanwhile, the Great Plains continue to be on trajectory for a record-slow severe weather season.
No severe storms are expected in the Northeast for the next several days.
Below find dramatic scenes of the storms and skies in their wake: