The sky turned green. The torrential rain slid down the windows in sheets. Almost as quickly as the storms began, they were over. After a lighter rain early in the day, severe thunderstorms warnings for the Ohio Valley region began on the afternoon of Wednesday March 23, 2011. Shortly after the rain began, local reports of hail in select regions began to roll in. Cars were damaged as golf ball sized hail dropped to the ground. Some reported to me that their lawns looked like either a "practice range for golfers" or "covered in eggs". One rural local route was so damaged after the storms that the roads were shut down for hours.
Photo by Sally Dingman, used with permission, all rights reserved.
About 1,000 tornadoes hit the United States each year. In western Pennsylvania, damaging tornadoes can and do occur. In fact, Pennsylvania can expect on average of 1-15 EF3 or EF4 tornadoes per year. Most associate tornadoes with tornado alley in the Midwest, but nearly every state in the last 10+ years in the United States has experienced a tornado. One event, in 1944, caused the death of at least 150 people in what is known as the Appalachian Outbreak. The Pennsylvania-Ohio Outbreak of 1985 included 41 tornadoes and 75 deaths.
In all, a total of nine tornadoes were reported to the National Weather Service. Nearly 200 incidences of hail were also reported. The tornadoes that occurred on Wednesday was classified as an EF2. With tornadoes, it is not always the intensity of the storm that matters as much as the buildings and objects in its path. Unfortunately, a local high school building in Greensburg, PA was damaged in the storm. Portions of the auditorium and the football field at Hempfield Area High School were damaged. The roof was at least partially blown off the auditorium causing the school to be closed for the following day. Several students and faculty members were present, seeking shelter in the basement. No injuries were reported. Other homes in the area were completely demolished by the high winds.
Pennsylvania was not the only location to have high winds and severe thunderstorms. Several other states, including 3 tornadoes reported in Tennessee, also reported damages. The National Weather Service is set to dispatch meteorologists to the region to confirm if the storm was a tornado or a microburst.