Storm leaves trail of damage in Harford

A line of thunderstorms passed through Harford County Saturday afternoon, knocking down trees – including one at the Harford County Courthouse – and causing sporadic power outages.

Local residents and county officials initially thought a tornado had passed through the Fallston area, and the vicinity of Glenville Road in the Churchville area, knocking trees across the road and damaging a few houses with winds of up to 90 mph.

It turned out the event was not a tornado, but rather the weather phenomenon known as a "downburst," according to Rick Ayers, Harford County's emergency manager.

Ayers, who consulted with the National Weather Service following the storm, said downbursts involve "straightline" winds cutting across the ground and causing damage in a straight pattern, as opposed to the rotating winds of a tornado, which can send debris in all directions.

"The damages from some of these downbursts can be just as significant as a minor tornado," he said.

In the case of Saturday's storm, however, the damage "could have been a lot worse than what it was," Ayers explained.

He said the county's 911 center received more than 130 calls for up to 90 minutes after the storm began around 4:45 p.m., and the Emergency Operations Center was "partially activated" to monitor the storm's activity and help coordinate the dispatch of teams from the Harford County Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits to inspect storm damage.

Several roads around the county were closed because of fallen power lines and trees.

The storm came through Baltimore County Saturday afternoon and moved across the Fallston, Forest Hill, Bel Air and Churchville areas.

Rich Gardiner, spokesman for the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association, said via text message Monday there were "just over" two dozen responses by volunteer fire companies for calls related to the storm.

Gardiner said no injuries were reported as a result of the storm.

Ayers said county inspectors visited several houses where trees had fallen on them, and determined the structures were still habitable.

BGE spokesman Robert Gould said in an e-mail that about 7,100 of the utility's Harford County customers lost power during the storm. All customers had their power restored by 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

A large tree limb fell on part of the roof of the Harford County Courthouse in downtown Bel Air during the storm.

Bel Air Police and Harford County Sheriff's deputies closed Office Street, and tree cutters with Harford Tree Experts and Landscaping of Fallston cut the rotted limb into pieces and transported it away over the weekend.

Cristie Kahler, public information specialist with the Sheriff's Office, which is responsible for courthouse security, said the court operations were on their normal schedule Monday.

Richard Sparr, building construction and repair supervisor with the county's Division of Facilities and Operations, said the limb had punched a hole through the roof shingles, damaged "numerous" slate shingles, plus about 24 feet of sculpted metal along the edge of the roof, as well as 24 to 30 feet of copper gutter.

Sparr said it was unknown when the roof would be fully repaired, as a new section of scuplted metal must be made first.

He also said the remainder of the shattered tree will be removed – it consists of the trunk and the right-hand branch of where the trunk forked, leaving it off balance.

"It has to come down," Sparr explained. "It just has too much weight hanging in the wrong direction."

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