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Rare winter tornado rips through Charles Co. (Photos)

WASHINGTON — The National Weather Service has confirmed that a rare winter tornado struck southern Maryland on Saturday. The tornado is one of only three on record to touch down in the state during the month of February.

A ground survey conducted by the weather service revealed damage consistent with a weak EF-1 tornado along an 8.4-mile long track between La Plata and the St. Charles community east of Waldorf.

The storm that spawned the twister moved through Stafford County, Virginia, during the early afternoon, intensifying as it crossed the Potomac River. In a burst of heavy hail and turbulent winds, it impinged on Charles County, Maryland, around 3 p.m.

Winter tornadoes are rare in the Mid-Atlantic. Saturday’s twister is one of only three ever documented in the state of Maryland during the month of February. A weak but persistent tornado touched down on Feb. 21, 2014, tracking 18 miles through St. Mary’s and Calvert counties. The first February tornado in Maryland was documented in Frederick County in 1966.

The latest assessment concludes a tornado touched down near the Rosewick Crossing Shopping Center along Route 301 where roof damage was reported. The twister then carved through a wooded area, snapping and uprooting trees. Shingles were peeled and eaves were damaged in White Plains Village as it continued northeastward.

East of Waldorf, the twister’s wind field swelled to the width of a football field. Weather service investigators determined that the tornado peaked in intensity as it approached the Smallwood Village Shopping Center and the Huntington Apartments with wind speeds of up to 90 miles per hour; shingles were torn, siding was peeled and a carport collapsed onto several vehicles along Heathcote Road.

Resident Charlies Gray said it sounded like a bomb going off as the whirlwind lurched over his apartment building along Gallery Place: “Hail just started hitting hard. Trees started to drop. We heard the crashing. We came outside and it was just one big mess everywhere.”

St. Charles Parkway was impassable between St. Marks Drive and Post Office Road due to tree debris. Lieutenant James Stoddard with the Charles County Sheriff’s Office says most roads, including the parkway, were reopened within about two hours following the passage of the storm.

“We responded to approximately 125 calls for service. The fire [department] responded to about 40 calls for service during that time.” Stoddard added that no injuries were reported.

The tornado likely lifted just north of St. Peters Church Road, the weather service said. The storm brought heavy precipitation to areas east of Waldorf, producing a white swath of hail into northern Calvert County.

“We did see a tremendous amount of hail that came through. There was a tremendous amount of rain — it was a powerful storm,” Stoddard said.

Other parts of the D.C. region received heavy rain and hail Saturday afternoon. In Stafford and Prince William counties, a carpet of hail stones whitened the ground for a short time during the early afternoon.


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