- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A tornado cut an 18-mile path across central St. Mary’s and into southern Calvert County shortly after midday Friday, toppling trees, causing some power outages and delaying the planned early dismissal of students from St. Mary’s public schools.
No injuries or substantial property damage was reported from the storm, rated by the National Weather Service as the minimum in intensity for a tornado, with wind speeds of 65 to 85 mph.
The storm’s track in St. Mary’s included Breton Beach Road south of Leonardtown, and proceeded from there to Fairgrounds Road near three county schools, Wildewood Parkway in California and across Route 235 toward the Patuxent River, according to Bob Kelly, St. Mary’s director of emergency services and technology.
“It came through quick, and our recovery was quick,” Kelly said, through the response by volunteer firefighters, county public works employees and utility crews.
Weather alerts that morning escalated from a tornado watch to a severe thunderstorm warning, before the 12:31 p.m. tornado warning that triggered an emergency call to all of the county’s schools, including the three in the storm’s path — Leonardtown High School, Leonardtown Middle School and the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center.
“It happened at a very challenging time of the day, because it was an early dismissal,” according to F. Michael Wyant, the county schools’ director of safety and security.
Students at all of the schools were moved into hallways and other secure locations away from exterior windows and high ceilings, Wyant said, as buses were arriving at some locations to take them home.
“A few buses had already left” with students before the warning and response, Wyant said, and their drivers were notified to find a safe place to park.
Leonardtown volunteer firefighters were dispatched to wires and poles down on St. Andrew’s Church Road, trees down on Breton Beach Road and Fairgrounds Road, and a report of a school bus accident with only property damage at Fairgrounds Road.
The county’s work crews responded to that area and the side road of Beem Lane, where a resident said the multiple trees falling near the house looked more like damage from a straight-line wind.
Seventh District, Ridge and Hollywood firefighters also were dispatched to trees or utility poles in their first-due areas, and Bay District volunteer firefighters’ calls included a transformer fire on Route 235 in California, poles leaning over along the highway and a dog they rescued from a flooded crawl space at a Wildewood home.
The bulk of the power outages included a feeder unit in the Valley Lee area that was repaired in about 90 minutes, and one in Redgate, closer to the tornado’s path, that was fixed in about half an hour, according to Tom Dennison, a spokesperson for Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative.
About 2,000 of the utility’s customers in St. Mary’s experienced power outages as a result of the storm, and Wyant said those included the three schools near the fairgrounds, Dynard Elementary School and Town Creek Elementary School.
Kelly said the cleanup on roads was completed before 2 p.m. Our folks responded well,” he said, “as they always do.”
For the schools, the storm provided a test of what to do in a true disaster. “It was a really good drill for us,” Wyant said.