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April 11, 2013

Hail! Spring storm

Wind fells trees, flicks off lights

MERCER COUNTY — Whoosh! Crack! Bzzzz!

The 2013 Spring Thunderstorm Season is officially on. The competition for the mightiest wind of the year began with a storm that downed hundreds of trees and knocked out power to about 8,500 Mercer Countians.

Earlier in the day, there were afternoon reports of hail that whitened yards in Hermitage with ice crystals about the size of nickels and dimes.

With perhaps its most dramatic work, the storm took part of the roof off Sharon Coatings, an industrial plant on Sharpsville Avenue in Sharon. Just up the East Hill at Buhl Farm park where Sharon, Hermitage and Sharpsville come together, a score of trees were toppled by wind.

“It was like a funnel taking the shingles off our attached garage,” Hazen Road residents Debbie Uberti. “It sounded really bad.”

The street was closed between Forker Boulevard/Mercer Street and North Buhl Farm Drive because of downed trees, including a massive oak in Dave DeForest’s yard that ended up blocking the road.

Workers from Penn West Tree Service spent about an hour clearing the road.

“It was a straight line wind. It lasted a good 45 seconds to a minute,” Hazen Road resident Bill Shea said.

Shea watched the storm from his porch and saw DeForest’s tree come down.

“I heard the popping and the crashing,” Shea said.

Hermitage Fire Chief Robert Goeltz and Sharon Chief Terry Whalen both were busy responding to calls throughout the Shenango Valley.

“Trees are down all over the place,” Whalen said at the scene of a tree down on wires and a car on Hall Avenue.

“It was like a cloudburst or something,” Euclid Avenue resident Greg Shrump said while watching neighbors chop up a downed tree in Sharon.

“It was just a really strong wind that came all of a sudden,” Shrump said.

Around the corner, Brad Thompson marveled how the storm sheared off a 60-foot blue spruce in his back yard on Norris Street.

The tree narrowly missed two cars parked in the driveway and its top landed in his back yard.

“It was all wind. Sheer wind,” Thompson said.

Matthew Kramer, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, said the storms were “relatively organized” and produced a broad swath of high wind, which he said was at least 70 mph.

“It’s awful tough to tell (how fast the wind was) without (seeing) the scope and nature of the damage,” Kramer said.

“We’ll be looking into it (today),” he said.

The storm was fueled by a “very strong” upper level disturbance over the Southern Plains that collided with cold air aloft here.

“The instability led to thunderstorms,” Kramer said.

It caused the weather service’s phone to ring “off the hook,” he said.

New this season is a line for storm reports the NWS is touting with its warning. That number is 412-282-1988 and the line was busy much of Wednesday night.

The storm knocked out power to about 8,500 customers, Penn Power Area Manager Chuck Jackson said.

Crews were expected to work through Wednesday night, Jackson said.

The outages were scattered, ranging from pockets affected by downed trees, to areas affected by four substations that were off-line early Wednesday night.

Power should be restored by the time you read this, Jackson said.

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