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In May 1979, a tornado battered Westminster [Eagle Archive]

Tornadoes and Wind StormsMaryland State PoliceShinglesNational Weather ServiceJC Penney Company Inc.

On May 23, 1979, a tornado struck Westminster and left a path of destruction 150 yards wide for over 2 miles.

Since Feb. 19, 1893, there have been more than 20 weather events in Westminster and surrounding Carroll County areas, which historians have labeled as "tornadoes."

Many of those have followed a similar path, starting on the southwest corner of the city and traveling northeast through the center of town toward the intersection of Routes 140 and 27.

The 1979 storm struck at 6:35 p.m. and, according to the National Weather Service, "touched down in the southwest outskirts of town and then moved through the downtown business district and then to Cranberry.

"One hundred and nine homes were damaged and 24 businesses. Some had roofs completely torn off. Trees were uprooted and snapped, crushing two cars and damaging some homes. There were no fatalities or injuries."

The storm produced winds that were estimated to have been in excess of 120 mph and caused more than $1.5 million in damages in Westminster. There was considerable damage to the roofs and windows of several buildings on West Main Street near the intersection of Carroll Street, including Geiman's Furniture, J.C. Penney, and Montour House. Farther east, the buildings at the old Shriver Canning Factory at routes 140 and 27 were heavily damaged.

Downtown Westminster was left a mess. Main Street was littered with debris from downed trees, shingles, cars, glass windows, utility poles, wires, trash and metal roofs and much of the clean-up required heavy equipment including front-end loaders and large dump trucks.

A Maryland State Police teletype at the time told of a "Report of Unusual Occurrence."

The memo said, "A tornado struck the main business district and neighboring residential area of Westminster, Md. … Maryland State Police assistance was immediately requested by Sgt. Harry Zook, officer (on duty) Westminster City Police." Sam Leppo was the Westminster police chief at the time.

"First troopers on the scene reported severe property damage and requested additional assistance. By utilizing both on-duty and off-duty personnel (Westminster) Barrack 'G' initially committed 12" uniformed officers to assist the Westminster police department and the sheriff's office in maintaining the peace and traffic control.

The teletype also mentioned that Westminster Mayor LeRoy Conaway "declared a curfew from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. the next morning.

"There have been no reports of looting," said the police report.

In addition to assistance from the State Police, the Baltimore mayor at the time, William Donald Schaffer, as well as Gov. Harry Hughes and U.S. Rep. Beverly Byron all offered assistance.

When he's not hiding in the basement of his house any time he hears the wind howling outside, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Tornadoes and Wind StormsMaryland State PoliceShinglesNational Weather ServiceJC Penney Company Inc.
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