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‘Very loud and very scary’: Carroll County residents recount damaging storm and its aftermath

Early Friday morning, Carroll County residents got jarring warnings of severe weather and possibly even a tornado.

For many in Westminster, severe weather came right on the heels of the warnings, with severe winds uprooting trees, and stripping roofing and siding from homes and businesses in downtown Westminster shortly after 8 a.m.

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A tornado warning and a severe thunderstorm warning from the National Weather Service lasted until 8:30 a.m., as a fast-moving storm swept through the area, downing trees and wires, damaging buildings, and leading school students and staff to shelter in place. A total of at least 2,000 customers of area power utilities were affected by the storm.

The weather service has not declared that a tornado did, in fact, form during the storm — and staff will visit Carroll to look for evidence — but some locals reported strong winds and resulting damage that brings tornadoes to mind.

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Suzanne Radcliffe was on her way to work at the Montessori School of Westminster, heading west on Md. 140, when she encountered the storm.

“Coming down the hill from the intersection towards McDonald’s, and there was just a wall of weather in front of me. I had no choice but to drive through,” she said. “It was like a terrible rain storm, but then the wind as you entered it was ferocious.”

As she approached Center Street, Radcliffe said, she could see materials from a construction site, the location of a former car dealership, being blown through the air.

“There was a 4-by-8 [foot] sheet of something flying through the air,” she said. “I could hear things pounding on my car. Then I was in front of Goodwill and the shingles were being peeled off of Goodwill and flying through the air, but fortunately they were flying away from me, not toward me.”

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Flashes of light drew Radcliffe’s attention to power poles at the intersection of Md. 140 and Englar Road.

“Something was arcing, some electric line was reacting. I had to come to almost a complete stop, put my hazards on, other people were doing the same,” she said. “It was crazy.”

And then, it was over.

“As I got up toward Roy Rogers, I would say, it was dissipating, pretty much,” she said. “By the time I got to Safeway it was just rain, a lot of rain.”

Ultimately, visibility was too low for Radcliffe to see much of anything, much less the shapes of clouds that could help her determine whether she had been in the midst of a tornado’s path or just a very intense downburst of wind.

“Whatever it was, I was inside of it,” she said. “It was a definitely a one-of-a-kind experience.”

Jim Voter was out with a ladder at about 10 a.m. Friday, checking on the roof of a home he owns and rents out in the 160 block of W. Main Street in Westminster — near where a tin roof had been blown into the road.

Voter, who lives at the top of West Main with his wife Lyndi McNulty, noted that the storm seemed to cut a narrow path, leaving their portion of the neighborhood relatively unscathed, though certainly not unaffected by the rapidly moving storm.

“When I saw the telephone poles start swaying we went down in the basement. As we got to the top step of the basement, the lights all went out,” Voter said. “We were down there just long enough to find some batteries and the lights came back on. Then it was done.”

Marian Shipley was home on George Street in Westminster when the storm hit.

“All I can tell you was it was very loud and very scary,” she said. “It sounded like a freight train coming through, and I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Shipley works at Grace Lutheran Church on Carroll Street, and at about 10 a.m. she was outside, surveying downed trees on the grounds of The Shepherd’s Staff across from the church. Her commute after the storm was a wild one.

“What should have taken me five minutes took me over 15 minutes. Every route was closed with trees down and debris,” she said. “It was an obstacle course everywhere.”

Kenneth Albert of New Windsor has no doubt what came through Friday morning.

“I’ll guarantee you it was a tornado,” he said. “Once you heard it, you had no doubt what it was.”

Albert, of the 1800 block of Jordan’s Retreat Road, some 5 miles south of Westminster, received word of the tornado warning while still in bed and then heard the storm fast approaching. But he couldn’t heed the warning to take cover because he is paralyzed and couldn’t get out of bed.

“I heard it coming. It sounded like a train,” Albert said. “It started off in the distance and just kept getting louder and louder and louder.”

He said he didn’t think there was any damage to his house, but at least five large trees were “snapped off.”

Kevin Sharp of Westminster clears debris outside his house on James Street after a powerful storm swept through Westminster Friday morning, Feb. 7, 2020.
Kevin Sharp of Westminster clears debris outside his house on James Street after a powerful storm swept through Westminster Friday morning, Feb. 7, 2020. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

By 1 p.m., the temperature had clearly fallen, and Kevin Sharp was outside in a jacket with a chainsaw, working to remove the large pine tree branch that had fallen across his driveway and the power line feeding his home on James Street.

“I don’t think it’s live,” he said of the wire, pausing his sawing for the moment. “I can go get my tester — I’m an electrician.”

Sharp had been working in Baltimore City on Friday morning when he got word of the storm damage at home.

“My friend’s wife, she’s a meter maid in Westminster. They showed me pictures,” he said. “I said, ‘I’ll come home. A reason to take half a day and clean stuff up.’ ”

Kevin’s wife Liivi was home with their 6-month-old son when she heard the storm warning come through on her phone.

“Tornado warning, I thought, that’s not just a watch, that’s severe. So I called up my husband and told him what was happening and he told me to go in the basement,” she said. “I was going down the stairs and I heard the wind really pick up; it was really loud and noisy. I’m pretty sure I heard [the tree branch] thump at one point.”

She wished their Ring camera had stayed on long enough to catch the tree branch falling, but she said they were really very fortunate the way things worked out, all considered.

“Last night I decided to park in the street because his truck was in the driveway,” she said. “Later on last night he was talking about, ‘Let’s put your car in the driveway.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t want to.’ I’m glad we didn’t.”

As Liivi spoke and Kevin prepared to take a his chainsaw to the fallen tree again, the wind picked up and begin to whip a sudden shower of snow flurries across their yard.

“You’ve got to love Maryland,” Kevin said. “It’s 50 degrees in the morning, a twister, and now it’s snowing.”

Leslie Eckard was in the living room of her home on Kemper Avenue when the storm hit.

I guess it was 8:10 a.m. or 8:15 a.m. I was sitting on the couch with my dog and all of a sudden the rains got much heavier, they were just pelting down," she said. “Then all of a sudden I heard this horrible noise.”

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Looking outside, she saw the trees in her neighbors yard had fallen down and into her yard, with branches now piled on — but not tearing through — her in-ground pool cover.

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“It took down my awning, but it didn’t down the roof or anything,” she said. "It took down the fence between the two houses completely.

In the end, Eckard said, she was left with a big mess she didn’t even know how to begin to clean up, but knew it could have been much worse.

“I am grateful it didn’t hurt me or my pet,” she said. “And I have two daughters, neither of whom were home.”

Standing in her backyard at about 2 p.m., Eckard noted the chill winds picking up and wondered how that might effect the clean up efforts.

“We’ve had all kinds of weather today,” she said. “This morning it was warm, around noon it was snowing. I’m expecting frogs or lizards next.”

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