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Weather batters Wilbraham again

Date: 8/1/2011

Aug. 1, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM — Wilbraham was again a major target of Mother Nature’s wrath as a severe storm on July 26 offered an eerie reminder of the June 1 tornado to residents of the Pioneer Valley.

The storm produced torrential rains, damaging winds and golf ball-sized hail that caused widespread damage in Wilbraham, Springfield, Monson and Hampden, communities still trying to recover from one of the strongest tornadoes in the area’s history.

Ludlow, Chicopee, West Springfield, Holyoke and South Hadley were also hit hard by the storm.

According to a preliminary local storm report from the National Weather Service (NWS), the first severe weather reports in the Pioneer Valley were relayed to the NWS at 4:17 p.m., extremely close to the time that the severe storm, which produced an EF-3 tornado, hit the valley on June 1.

The report said trained spotters filed unconfirmed reports of funnel clouds in West Springfield and Easthampton. The NWS issued warnings of a tornado in Wilbraham or around Springfield and one Indian Orchard resident told Reminder Publications he saw a funnel cloud shortly before strong winds wreaked havoc on his property.

The NWS office in Taunton reported that no tornado touched down, but there high winds reaching 90 to 100 miles per hour with average widths of 250 yards and up to 600 yards in Wilbraham.

Between the June 1 tornadoes, the recent heat wave and the July 26 storm, Western Massachusetts has endured one of the most extreme periods of weather activity in recent memory and meteorologists cannot offer an explanation.

“It’s complete happenstance. There’s no good explanation,” a meteorologist from the region’s NWS forecast office said. “There’s nothing we can go back and point to as a direct cause for this weather.”

Wilbraham Police told Reminder Publications shortly after the storm they were unofficially calling the phenomenon that hit their town a “microburst.”

Wilbraham Police Chief Allen Stratton said that the hardest hit area of town was just the section surrounding the Springfield and Main streets.

He added that it appeared most severe weather missed the areas surrounding the intersections of Tinkham and Stony Hill Roads and Tinkham Road and Main Street, which were badly affected by the June 1 tornado.

“I would say it was adjacent to that area. It was a little bit north of the direct path of the [June 1] tornado,” Stratton said. “There was some overlap. The two areas are very close.”

The NWS reported, “The greatest damage was along an approximately two-mile long path, which extended from just north of Springfield Street ... across the Country Club of Wilbraham ... across Federal Lane to just beyond Tinkham Road.”

The entire town suffered power outages as hundreds of trees fell and Stratton confirmed that there were several homes that sustained structural damage due to wind and falling trees.

The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) reported in a press release that some falling trees hit Minnechaug Regional High School and there was some damage to the roof of the pool, but it remained structurally sound.

Other HWRSD buildings were not affected by the storm, including the new Minnechaug building currently under construction and Memorial School, which HWRSD hopes to lease to Cathedral High School for the 2011-2012 school year.

“Once again our communities have been impacted by nature’s wrath,” Scott Chapman, chair of the Hampden-Wilbraham School Committee, said. “The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District sends its support to all those impacted by [last week’s] severe storm.”

The Main Street corridor was lined with Department of Public Works, Verizon and National Grid vehicles. Several streets, including Springfield Street and Faculty Street, remained closed throughout the day as the town cleaned up debris, fallen trees and National Grid dealt with utility repairs. The Country Club of Wilbraham had numerous felled trees across fairways and other areas of the course.

The damage was not confined to that area alone, however. A tree struck a home and parked vehicle on Soule Road after it split at the base.

National Grid reported more than 9,000 customers without power throughout East Longmeadow, Wilbraham, Hampden and Monson. Western Massachusetts Electric Company reported widespread outages to 14,000 customers.

In Hampden, a large tree fell on the roof of a house on Wehr Road, crushing the structure in half.

While sustaining no significant damage, East Longmeadow was without power because the powerful winds knocked down the transmission line feeding the substation, but power was restored to the town by the early morning hours of July 27.

“We brought crews in from other areas of Massachusetts and Rhode Island through the night,” John Hoffman, National Grid’s vice president of Maintenance and Construction for New England said in a press release. “This concentration of resources enabled us to restore service to most of East Longmeadow shortly after 6 a.m. Crews will be working through the day to complete the restoration process.”

Sixteen Acres was spared the kind of devastation it experienced on June 1, but there were still several reports of tree and tree limbs down in roadways and on properties. The Indian Orchard section of the city was more widely affected with trees blocking several roadways and knocking out power to much of that neighborhood.

Elsewhere in the Pioneer Valley, hailstones measuring 1.75 inches fell in both Chicopee and Ludlow. In Chicopee, one person was reported injured by falling debris.

The NWS Automated Surface Observation System station at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., reported sustained winds of 41 miles per hour. Several communities sustained heavy flooding.

Reports of downed trees in several communities and on the Massachusetts Turnpike were also made to Reminder Publications.

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