The National Weather Service (NWS) confirmed Friday evening that at least six tornadoes touched down during this morning’s historic winter thunderstorm event in Maryland and Virginia. Five were in the local Washington area.
Previously, the Washington region had seen a maximum of just one tornado in any winter severe thunderstorm event. The five occurring in a single morning represents, by far, the biggest winter tornado event on record for this area.
The confirmed tornadoes join at least 225 reports of wind damage logged by the National Weather Service in the Mid-Atlantic, stretching from southeast Virginia through northern New Jersey. It is the most reports on record in the Mid-Atlantic from a severe thunderstorm outbreak during the winter months.
The first of the tornadoes happened near Leesburg in Loudoun County, with two additional touchdowns in Montgomery County, another in central Carroll County in northern Maryland, and yet one more in eastern Frederick County. The sixth was in far northeast Maryland.
Although the Leesburg tornado was relatively weak, rated EF0 on a 0 to 5 scale, maximum wind speeds of 85 mph caused some significant damage. The twister touched down at 7:20 a.m. and had an intermittent path of 3.3 miles, with a maximum width of 250 yards.
“The first damage was reported in the Greenway Farm and Linden Hill subdivision in southwest Leesburg,” according to the survey. A number of trees were uprooted at that location, in addition to numerous limbs down. In this area, damage was estimated to be caused by 65 mph winds.
After briefly lifting and sparing the historic downtown, the tornado touched back down and became stronger. In northeast Leesburg, several locations of significant damage occurred.
The survey notes that “a townhome on Ginger Square NE had its siding and underlayment completely peeled off, exposing [its] roof trusses.” A number of other houses had roof damage, as well as trees downed.
The NWS found another zone with major damage north of Battlefield Parkway NE.
“Here, fifteen to twenty 1.5-2.0 foot diameter pines were uprooted,” it wrote. The NWS continued, “Of special note was a line of 5 large pine trees in the easternmost portion of the apartment complex which were uprooted and which fell onto two unoccupied vehicles.”
Dickerson (Montgomery County) tornado
An EF1 tornado was also confirmed near Dickerson, Md., in western Montgomery County. It touched down at 7:28 a.m., with a path length of a mile and maximum wind speeds of 95 mph.
The survey indicates that damage was seen in trees near Martinsburg Road near the Potomac River. “A large barn used to house horses lost all of its roof while an adjacent open-air pole barn was flattened,” the NWS wrote. Additionally, “several small outbuildings were destroyed.”
Boyds (Montgomery County) tornado
At roughly the same time, an EF0 tornado was occurring near Boyds in Montgomery County. Maximum sustained winds of 80 mph were estimated along its 2.3-mile path.
Several trees were topped and downed power lines on Darnestown Road in Boyds. The tornado went on to destroy an outbuilding and damage several structures. “A 10 foot 2x4 impaled the side of one of the office trailers while another 2x4 impaled the roof of the second office trailer,” the NWS wrote.
Westminster (Carroll County) tornado
Later, an EF1 touched down in Carroll County to the southwest of Westminster. It had an intermittent path length of 10.3 miles and a maximum wind of 90 mph.
The tornado passed largely over rural areas, snapping and uprooted numerous trees. Some fell onto cars and homes. A military trailer and recruiting office of the National Guard were damaged as well.
Monrovia (Frederick County) tornado
The Weather Service confirmed an EF1 tornado carved a six-mile path through eastern Frederick County, with winds to 105 mph. This twister, on the ground from 7:44 to 7:50 a.m., was up to 150 yards wide as it passed in the vicinity of New Market and Monrovia.
Traveling mostly over open country, the Weather Service wrote that tree damage was “extensive.” The twister damaged several structures on a farm, “where a machine shed and barn were flattened,” as well as a silo.
These are the first tornadoes on record during meteorological winter, or December-February, in each of the counties they occurred locally. That also means they’re the earliest tornado in a calendar year on record. For instance, the touchdown in Loudoun County bests prior earliest touchdowns on April 16 in 1993 and 2011.
Another tornado was confirmed by the NWS Philadelphia/Mt. Holly office near Barksdale, Md., bringing the total in the broader region to at least six.
While the Mid-Atlantic averages about one tornado per meteorological winter, the ferocity of the broader event was unusual. It was driven by a very powerful storm system plowing northeast up the Appalachians while strengthening rapidly. It goes down as one of the largest winter tornado events on record in the Mid-Atlantic, in addition to the largest locally.
Information in this report should be considered preliminary, and additional tornado confirmations are possible.