Press-Republican

September 8, 2012

Wicked storm explodes over southern Westport

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — WESTPORT — Damage still showed Friday from a microburst that exploded over the southern end of Westport Thursday afternoon.

A horizontal sheet of wind and rain laid 60-foot-tall trees flat and ripped apart roofs.

Camp Dudley, on the shores of Lake Champlain, was right in its path.

The camp’s Business Manager Fred Guffey said three of Dudley’s cabins were significantly damaged, more than 40 trees were either uprooted or shorn in half, and sports and camp gear was strewn across the property.

Guffey was traveling south on Route 9/22 toward Dudley Road when he saw the storm glowering overhead.

“There was severe lightning,” he said. “A gentleman was riding with me, and I jokingly said, ‘It almost looks like a funnel cloud.’ The storm cloud was black, and it had like a little hook on the end — but it was not touching the ground. It was kind of hanging right over the shoreline of the lake.”

As they approached Dudley Road, a side road that curves along a ridge against the lake shoreline, Guffey said something that looked like a snow squall appeared.

“It was this big, brown combination of rain and wind, like a squall, stretching up to the sky and down to the ground, that moved about 300 yards in front of us. By the time we got to camp, it was all over with.”

Except for cleanup and damage assessment.

Guffey expects the storm caused between $8,000 and $10,000 in damage during the few minutes it took to blast out over Lake Champlain.

He said quarter-sized hail fell with the rain.

“I’m not an expert; I’ve asked could this be an F-1 tornado?”

ROOFS TORN APART

A couple of downed trees blocked the road, he said. And others “were all laid down in like a path. We stopped counting after 40 trees. The storm ran in a swath that goes to the lake, moving in a southeasterly direction, across the soccer fields then down toward the North Point area. It cut all the trees in its wake. Then there wasn’t any damage for several feet, then more trees damaged at North Point. You can see a marked swath where the storm passed through.”

Just above Camp Dudley, barn roofs, including large strips of tin, were torn apart.

One portion of a barn roof was carried 150 feet in the air and dropped, Guffey reported.

“The barn belongs to the old Frisbee property and is not occupied.”

The property owner is from the Saratoga area.

NOT EVEN 10 MINUTES

About a mile and a half north of Dudley on Barber Point, the Barber Homestead RV Park was also hit hard by wind and rain.

Billie Marsh operates the summer campground with her parents, Erwin and Joyce Barber.

“We had about eight trees that were down, primarily uprooted,” she said Friday.

“One was a huge maple, about 20 inches in diameter and 60 feet tall. A couple of trees landed on (tow-behind) campers, but there was no structural damage.”

And no one was hurt, she said.

The sheet of horizontal wind from the storm pushed Marsh’s golf cart about 20 feet and ran it into the pool fence.

“Campers here said it was a wall of water came, and then it was hail,” she said.

“I was at my house on Napper Road. All of a sudden it started raining, then the rain became horizontal like a big wet wind. The lightning was exceptional — there were three or four streaks of lightning, straight up and down, absolutely vertical, from the earth to the moon.”

Across from the campground, at the Barber homestead, Marsh said, they lost the roof off of an old garage, rafters and everything.

“It lasted not even 10 minutes.”

SIDEWAYS RAIN

Cleanup began straight away.

Westport Highway Superintendent Denis Westover said they cleared four 3-foot diameter maple trees off Dudley Road.

“In my opinion, a microburst went through the south end of our town,” he said. “I was at my residence. It was bad — dark and windy, and the rain was going sideways. It was done raining by the time I headed out to check all the roads. Tin from the barns was spread for half a mile.”

Roadways were cleared into the evening on Thursday.

“In some places around town, you wouldn’t even know it rained,” Westover said.

WEATHER EXPLOSION

The National Weather Service in Burlington tracked the storm as it moved east through the southern Adirondack mountains.

Meteorologist Michael Muccilli said it was not a tornado. They had examined photos and discussed the storm with folks at Camp Dudley.

“Right now, we believe that it was straight-line wind damage, something like a microburst, but it was not a tornado. It was strongest right in the Westport area.”

Straight-line wind apparently works like a weather explosion.

“It descends rapidly from the upper air to the ground and then, when it hits the ground, the wind moves horizontally with force,” Muccilli said.

“The storm crossed Lake Champlain, and as it crossed the lake, it weakened. It came from an unstable air mass, mixed with warm temperatures and moist air.”

Email Kim Smith Dedam: 

kdedam@pressrepublican.com