National Weather Service: 2 tornadoes struck Westmoreland County this week

October 6, 2018
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A driver navigates underneath a fallen tree Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018 on Brinkerton Road in Unity.

Investigators from the National Weather Service determined Thursday that two tornadoes touched down this week in Westmoreland County.

Weather service investigators from Moon inspected damage in the county to determine the cause of numerous downed trees after a storm passed through Tuesday evening.

“We can confirm one tornado in Armbrust area, and a second one touched down three miles west of Stahlstown (near the border between Donegal and Mt. Pleasant townships),” said Pat Herald, a meteorologist with the weather service.

Both tornadoes were EF1, meaning they had winds between 86 and 110 mph, Herald said.

More than 30 trees were downed in the Armbrust area on adjacent sprawling properties off of Route 819 -- Keenan Greenhill Farm and Fred Petrella Sr.’s hobby farm -- during Tuesday’s storms that spurred a tornado watch. Trees at other homes along the road were downed as well.

Ir was the second tornado in the same spot in less than four months.

Two large tree trunks that fell along a section of Brinkerton Road in Unity remained suspended above the road Thursday.

According to Duane Wright, PennDOT’s assistant maintenance manager in the county, the trunks should not affect through traffic because they fell over a section of the road, between Pattern Shop Road and Jade Lane, that is closed for a bridge project. Vehicles still were seen driving beneath the trees along the section on Thursday.

Because the trunks fell into a Verizon line, PennDOT policy dictates its crews will not clear them away, Wright said. A Verizon contractor indicated it could not remove the trees before Friday, at the earliest, according to Wright.

The weather service noted that Tuesday’s tornadoes were Nos. 41 and 42 recorded in Westmoreland county since 1881. That is the most in the state.

Five tornadoes have swept through Hempfield since 1964:

• a twister hit Keenan Greenhill Farm on June 15, 1964.

• a tornado struck near Route 819 north of Greensburg on May 22, 1983, damaging homes and St. Emma’s Monastery in Hempfield.

• on Dec. 1, 2006, a twister started near Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital and headed north to Crabtree.

• a tornado damaged numerous homes in the Fort Allen section on March 23, 2011.

• a twister started at Keenan Greenhill Farm on June 27 before petering out in neighboring Mt. Pleasant Township.

Farmer Joel Milowicki of Keenan Greenhill Farm and JP’s Farmers Market said he saw a funnel cloud pass through Tuesday, but it appeared that the cloud was about 20 feet off of the ground. A cow died after being struck by lightning during the storm. Barns at his farm were damaged during the June 27 tornado.

Hendricks said it is possible that the cloud appeared to be not touching the ground because there was no visible debris being sucked up into the funnel.

“Afterwards you can actually see the patterns in the grass,” Hendricks said.

At the Petrella farm, at least 30 trees scattered around the 23-acre property were toppled by the winds.

Investigators were being sent to other locations Thursday including Preston County, W.Va., and spots in Ohio.

Officials are looking for help completing storm reports where tornado watches were issued on Tuesday in the Pittsburgh area. Those appear to include south central Westmoreland County, southern and western Allegheny County, Greene County and Washington County. To submit reports of hail or downed trees or power lines, contact the National Weather Service on Twitter, Facebook or by phone at 412-262-1882.

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