Microburst downs trees, damages homes, leaves 1,200 without power Saturday

SYKESVILLE — Emergency officials said the quick — but violent — storm that ripped through the southern part of Jefferson County Saturday evening leaving hundreds without power and damaging several homes was probably a microburst, not a tornado.

Strong thunderstorms hit the Sykesville and Henderson Township area around 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh had issued a severe thunderstorm warning just prior to the microburst, said Tracy W. Zents, director of Emergency Services for Jefferson County.

Zents said the storm hit an area that included sections of Henderson Township from the Paradise area through Stump Creek and Sykesville, then southeast into Troutville.

"High winds, torrential downpours and hail reported to be a quarter size in diameter occurred in the 15 minute storm," Zents said, adding that numerous trees and power lines were taken down, telephone poles snapped off, and several homes were damaged either by the winds or from trees that had fallen on them. 

He said Saturday evening, more than 1,200 residents were without power. 

"I was surprised at the amount of damage that did occur since we received no rain at all in Brookville," Zents said. "A command post
was set up at the Sykesville Fire Department, where emergency crews were deployed to the storm-hit areas."

According to the National Weather Service Web site, "a microburst is an out rush of wind (in a fan-out pattern) that can be as strong or stronger than some tornadoes.”

The Web site lists a tornado as being “characterized by winds flowing into the funnel, while the microburst is characterized by wind flowing away from the thunderstorm.”

Zents said Sykesville Fire Chief Kevin Yamrick coordinated the response of seven fire departments, six of which were mutual aid to the Sykesville Fire Department.

"We called in the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department to start checking door to door on residents with any type of special needs," Zents said, adding that a shelter was set up by the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and Robert Hartman, Big Run Emergency Management Coordinator, at the Big Run War Memorial. 

Damage assessment teams from Jefferson County and the American Red Cross were out Saturday evening and Sunday collecting preliminary damage reports that will be forwarded on to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service, Zents said. 

He said he will consult with the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh today to see what type of storm actually hit the area.

As of 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Penelec was reporting about 70 customers who were still without power, according to Zents.

Utility crews worked through the night Saturday and all day Sunday attempting to restore power in the area, he said, adding that Penelec, United Electric, Verizon and Comcast customers in this area were affected by the destructive storm. 

Zents said there were no injuries reported.  

Sykesville Firefighters were assisted by Reynoldsville, Elk Run, Central and Big Run fire departments in Jefferson County; Grampian and Sandy Township in Clearfield County; Jefferson County Department of Emergency Services; Sykesville, Henderson and Big Run Emergency Management coordinators; the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department; Sykesville Ambulance; and Jefferson County PennDOT.