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At least 30 trees uprooted, cow hit by lightning at Hempfield farms during storm

October 3, 2018
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Cows graze near one of at least 30 trees that were reportedly uprooted during a storm on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018, at a Hempfield farm owned by Fred Petrella Sr.

For the second time in less than four months, a funnel cloud churned over the Keenan Greenhill Farm in Hempfield.

Farmer Joel Milowicki has seen them both.

The first, on June 27, ripped the roofs off of a few buildings at the farm.

The second, on Tuesday, knocked a few trees over and a cow was struck and killed by lightning during the storm.

The difference this time was that the cloud was about 20 feet off of the ground as it swept along a cornfield and into a valley before heading east, Milowicki said.

“But it never did get down like last time,” he said.

Parts of Westmoreland County were hit by hail and heavy rains during a severe storm system that spurred a tornado watch early Tuesday evening. Residents in the Armbrust area off of Route 819 in Hempfield dealt with numerous downed trees -- including a 23-acre hobby farm with at least 30 trees toppled by the winds -- following the storm. Although the funnel cloud was spotted, the National Weather Service had not confirmed it as a tornado.

Reports of a tornado touching down in Lawson Heights in Unity and headed toward Youngstown were inaccurate, said Pete Tenerowicz, emergency management coordinator. There was some tree damage in the southern part of the township, near the Westmoreland Fairgrounds.

“It was totally false. There was no tornado on the ground,” Tenerowicz said Wednesday.

The National Weather Service in Moon was sending investigators to Greene County and north to Jefferson, Forest and Clarion counties for suspected tornado activity in those areas, meteorologist Lee Hendricks said. It was unclear if investigators would visit locations in Westmoreland County. They were still evaluating Wednesday morning, he said.

Brothers Fred Petrella Jr. and Philip Petrella were working on their father’s property Tuesday when it got really windy. Fred Petrella Sr.’s hobby farm with a few beef cattle is just over the hill and adjacent to Keenan Greenhill Farm.

“It’s scary, you look out the window and you see everything fly through the air,” Fred Petrella Jr. said. “It just picked (the trees) up and laid them down.”

Philip Petrella described it as a “freight train coming through the woods.” During the June tornado, he took off towards a creek in a valley on the property. On Tuesday, the brothers hunkered down in a garage where they were working.

“The rain, the hail, the wind, it was just undescribable,” he said.

Their neighbors are still recovering from the June tornado, which was the second to strike the Keenan farm. An EF2 twister hit there June 15, 1964.

They hope to have a roof back on the milk house by the winter. Most of their beef cattle -- which took off running as the funnel cloud moved overhead Tuesday -- was safe as was produce grown there to supply JP’s Farmers Market.

“No big deal this time,” Milowicki said.

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