There’s only so much you can say about the destruction that occurred over the border in Massachusetts. A tornadic supercell seems to have produced a tornado over an exceptionally long swath from Westfield to Southbridge, Massachusetts. A path that long is something unusual for Oklahoma and is exceptionally rare in New England.
Yesterday I drove to Monson, MA one of the towns hardest hit, to report for our 11 p.m. newscast. I arrived around 7:15 p.m. and walked from the barricade on Rt. 32 south of downtown to the hardest hit area. A 1/4 to 1/2 mile swath on Main Street suffered extremely severe damage with some locations likely experiencing EF-3 damage. On Washington Street one house was completely flattened and unrecognizable with a neighboring garage swept off its foundation and blown 50 feet.
Further east, on Bethany Rd., damage to houses was apparently worse and more severe but it was impossible to get there with the huge piles of debris filled with nails, utility lines, and scraps of metal. One house on Washington Road was flattened like a pancake and all sorts of things from the house were littered across the street. A cordless phone, a picture frame, a fax machine, and a coat rack. Inside the debris a frightened cat was hiding under a pile of 2 by 4s unsure where to go. I was able to coax the cat out but he ran down the street before I was able to get him.
The meteorology for this event was just surreal. It became very apparent to me about 24 hours before that this had the potential to be big. The elevated mixed layer and signs of strong low level wind shear and an upper level disturbance approaching during peak heating of the day were glaring signals. Once the supercells formed they quickly turned tornadic. This is the first sign of the tornado on Doppler Radar over Westfield.
Incredibly, even with a reported funnel cloud at Barnes Airport, there was no tornado warning on this storm until about 10 minutes after the storm struck Westfield. Radar showed strong rotation over Westfield about 15 minutes before the tornado warning was issued. The funnel was observed by the airport at 4:23 p.m. and it took until 4:30 p.m. for the warning to go out. By the time the storm got to Springfield the warning was posted and WWLP-TV showed live video of the storm leaving West Springfield and crossing the Connecticut River.
From the pictures and video I’ve seen from Westfield, West Springfield, and Springfield it appears the tornado did EF-2 damage. Unfortunately the tornado only strengthened as it moved east. Here is the storm on radar shortly after passing Monson.
This is about the most frightening radar image you can see. Besides >100 knots of gate-to-gate shear (which shows strong rotation) there is a classic debris ball being picked up on the radar at at elevation of about 6,500 feet. What this shows is pieces of debris picked up by the tornado and showing up as high reflectivity on the radar. Debris balls are an indication of a substantial tornado on the ground and doing significant damage to structures and trees.
The National Weather Service will be conducting damage surveys today to see how wide, long, and strong the tornado was. My estimation was high end EF-2 damage and low end EF-3 damage on Monson. I know there were some pockets of worse damage in parts of Monson, Brimfield, and Southbridge that could have been high end EF-3 or higher but I was unable to view these areas personally for safety reasons after dark and time constraints.
Will try to post some of the video we shot last night in Monson when I can. My thoughts are with the people of Massachusetts who have a long and emotional clean up ahead of them.