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Violent Storms Rip through the Area - Follow-up in the Aftermath
Written by By Larry Roeder and Bradley Schlegel

            After battling hail, a heavy downpour, slippery roads, limited visibility and fallen branches to travel a quarter of a mile last week, Doug Souder and his 8-year-old daughter were forced to park at a neighbor's residence and walk through multiple muddy backyards to get home. Then, they discovered a stranger standing in the driveway of their residence in the 2600 block on Burton Road in Upper Salford.

            "It's the craziest thing I've ever seen," Souder said.

            One block over – just before 5 p.m. on Wednesday, May 29 – Jerry Worrall heard a loud gust of wind and trees crashing. Looking out his window, he watched a lawn chair fly off his deck. Figuring his neighborhood was experiencing a tornado, Worrall hustled into his basement.

            "I got a little scared," said Worrall, who reported seeing marble-sized hail.

            A severe thunderstorm with straight line winds with speeds between 90 and 100 mph moved through Upper Salford and Lower Frederick townships between 4:55 and 5 p.m. felled thousands of trees and damaged numerous homes, sheds and automobiles in the area, according to the National Weather Service. 

            Based on a survey by a team of meteorologists from the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, N.J., the federal agency found no evidence of tornadic activity in that area, according to information in a linked posted on its Facebook page.

            The hardest hit areas were in the vicinity of Walnut Lane Trail between Hendricks Road and Salford Station Road in Lower Frederick, and along the Perkiomen Trail between Hendricks Road and Salford Station Road in Upper Salford Township, according to the agency. It reported no injuries or fatalities.

            The storm knocked out electrical power for a majority of the residents of Upper Salford, according to Kevin O'Donnell, chairman of the township's board of supervisors and its emergency management coordinator. He said during a news conference early Thursday afternoon that downed power lines caused by the excessive winds and falling trees stranded several Upper Salford residents in their homes and forced the closure of half the roads in the township.

            According to Alan Reppert, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather, the storm started over Kutztown and Topton and pushed southeast. He said a straight line wind, which often accompanies severe thunderstorms, can often reach 100 mph.

            According to Alfia Ohene-Frempong, a spokesperson for PECO, 1,080 customers on the township lost power as did 1,400 Upper Frederick customers.  In Lower Frederick, 400 out of 2,000 customers lost their power. The storm also knocked out 100 percent of the power in Marlborough Township (1,636) and Green Lane (246).

            In Marlborough, the power went out at the township building between 5 and 6 p.m., according to Marybeth Cody, the municipality's manager.  She said the structure utilized an emergency generator during the outage.  

            Green Lane absorbed storm damage, which includes some down trees and minor house damage, according to Lynn Wolfe.  "Green Lane is fine," she said May 30.

            Storm related events began at 4:49 p.m. on May 29 with the report of a telephone pole that fell onto a vehicle on Sumneytown Pike near Zepp Road.  No one was injured, but the incident closed busy Route 63 during the height of rush hour.  As Route 63 was being closed, Big Road (Route 73) in New Hanover Township was being closed near the Boyertown East Middle School due to a storm related event.

            Many residents in Green Lane borough, Marlborough and Upper Salford Township lost electrical power about that time.  Power was still out last Thursday morning causing the closure of Marlborough Elementary School while other schools in the Upper Perkiomen School District opened two hours late.

            Shortly after 5 p.m. emergency crews were dispatched to Pine Ridge Road in Upper Frederick Township for a report of multiple trees, poles, and wires down.

            The emergency calls and road closures began adding up in Upper Salford and Lower Frederick and multiple fire companies and fire police units were called in to help out.

            A weak tornado, identified as an EF-0, touched down in the southern portions of Lower Milford Township in Lehigh County around 3:14 p.m. on May 29, according to a summary posted by the National Weather Service. Officials identified rotation on the ground near the intersection of Kings Highway and East Mill Hill Road. It lifted and descended several times as it traveled in an east to southeast direction crossing into Bucks County into Milford Township before lifting the final time northwest of Spinnerstown. The twister, with winds measuring between 65 and 85 mph, caused fallen and snapped trees along a 2.3 mile-stretch, with at least one home sustaining roof damage from a fallen tree.

            Local and county emergency units operated throughout last Wednesday night and remained on the scene the following morning. Emergency responders checked on the well-being of residents Thursday morning in the area of Hendricks Road in Lower Frederick.  At least one person was found who needed emergency care due to the power outage. Emergency personnel were still checking residents and performing searches at 11 a.m.

            Throughout the Woxall portion of Upper Salford, several roads-- including Old Skippack Road, Burton Road and Oak Lane – were impassable the day after the storm due to large fallen branches, snapped utility poles and downed power lines draped across the roadway.

            The hum of power tools and the whirring of a distant helicopter were the dominant sounds between Bittersweet Drive and Old Skippack Road. Throughout the township Thursday afternoon, property owners worked to clear the debris from the storm, which included tree branches and large trees ripped from the ground by the roots. Early that afternoon, a handful of neighbors congregated along old Skippack Road near the intersection with Burton Road surrounded by downed branches, snapped utility poles and electrical wire on the road.

            "It looks like a war zone," said Worrall, sitting on a four-wheel vehicle on the shoulder. "It looks like something big happened."

            Snyder, who picked up his daughter, Leilani, at Salford Hills Elementary School on Barndt Road five minutes before 5 p.m. on May 29, needed 20 minutes to travel a quarter-mile to his home. They encountered heavy rain and hail after turning left onto to Perkiomenville Road from Old Sumneytown Pike. Snyder, who said his visibility was only 10 feet, was constantly starting and stopping. "I though the windshield on my truck was going to shatter," he said, adding that it felt like he was driving on an inch of ice. At one point, Snyder had to get out a push a tree branch off the road to get through. 

            Unable to reach their residence due to multiple downed trees and wires, they parked at a neighbor's house and walked through a few backyards to reach their residence. In their driveway Snyder discovered a stranger, who had become stranded, standing in his driveway. The man, who was attempting to utilize back roads to get to the Quakertown Interchange of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, parked his work van in their driveway. Snyder invited the man – who was on his way home to Weatherly after working in Cherry Hill, N.J. – into his home, provided him with dinner and a change of clothes and allowed him to sleep on a couch. 

            Last Thursday morning, at the Upper Salford Fire Company, located at 782 Old Skippack Road in Salfordville, emergency responders from throughout Montgomery County and beyond gathered to handle any related emergency issues.

            "We're working as hard as we can to provide the services people need," O'Donnell said.

            The excessive winds knocked out the electricity for 30 houses along Sumneytown Road in Marlborough, according to David Pickard. On Thursday morning, Pickard checked on two of his tenants who live on the road.

            "This is bad," he said. "It's a hot mess."

            Power to Upper Salford residents was completely restored – and the roads were essentially passable – by Sunday afternoon, according to O'Donnell. He said some properties were brought back online within 24 hours.

            The supervisor complemented PECO for its "outstanding effort" to restore the electricity. He said the company replaced 50 utility poles damaged in the storm.

            "We're starting to get back to normal," O'Donnell said Wednesday morning. "But that's going to take some time."

            Township officials received multiple offers of assistance from neighboring municipalities, local churches and private property owners, according to the supervisor. He said the storm brought out the best in people.

            "It's really heartwarming," O'Donnell said.









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