Thunderstorms, strong winds batter region


Strong thunderstorms in Maryland last night struck particularly hard in Harford County, with witness reports of a possible funnel cloud near Bel Air.

Capt. Richard Ayers of the county emergency operations center said he was caught in a strong burst of wind and rain that passed over U.S. 1 south of Route 24 about 6 p.m., cracking the windshield of his vehicle and forcing another car down an embankment.

"Whatever it was, I was in the middle of it," he said.

"We saw a tree blow across the road in front off us, and the next thing we knew, we were in the middle of it," said Captain Ayers, 34, who was responding to a hazardous materials call in the area with another emergency technician.

"All I tried to do was maintain control of the vehicle," he said, adding that he could hardly see for the driving rain.

No one in the emergency vehicle or in the other car was injured, Captain Ayers said.

"The wind just picked up the [other] vehicle and threw it down the embankment," Captain Ayers said.

Other reports of a funnel cloud came in from around the Bel Air and Fallston areas, officials said, and there were reports of possible funnel clouds near Havre de Grace.

Scott Swegon, a resident of Fallston, told the Associated Press that he had seen a funnel cloud develop near his house.

"I saw low clouds coming over; they were spiraling up," Mr. Swegon said. "Right as I was watching it, they started coming down into a funnel form. They started going down and down and down. The trees kept me from seeing an actual touch down."

Captain Ayers said emergency officials were at the scene last night trying to determine whether a tornado had struck the Bel Air area.

The National Weather Service had declared tornado warnings for Harford and Cecil counties but received no reports of damage. The warning lasted roughly a half-hour and was canceled after radar showed the weather front heading into Delaware.

In addition, Captain Ayers said, extra dispatchers were used to handle a flurry of about 50 calls for service in a two-hour period.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokesman Chuck Rayburn said 55,100 electric customers were without service at the peak of the storm, with nearly half of those in Harford.

Other outages were scattered throughout Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll and Howard counties.

As of 11 p.m., more than 15,000 outages remained across the BGE system, Mr. Rayburn said. Customers should have power restored by noon today, he said.

In Baltimore County, a 15-foot section of a roof at the Dunleer Co., at 41 Shipping Place in Dundalk, blew off during the storm and caused water damage, said firefighter Tim Robinson of the county fire department.

Also, he said, lightning struck a home in the 200 block of Gralan Road in Catonsville, causing extensive fire damage. The home was occupied by an unidentified 89-year-old woman.

"She was a pretty smart lady," he said. "She got herself out of the house," apparently with only minor injuries.

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