INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – The northeastern United States does not often find itself faced with major tornadic activity. However, September 24, 2001 was one of those rare days that caused a major tornado outbreak in this region.
Before Monday, September 24, things were still slow to return to normal after the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11. The last thing anyone in the northeastern region of the United States specifically needed was to deal with harsh weather conditions.
A disturbance associated with a cold front was moving through the mid-Atlantic region. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) noted that there would be enough unstable air and a decent amount of wind shear to support the potential for supercells. The last ingredient to mention was abundant humidity that spread as far north as Maryland with dew points exceeding 70 degrees. At 3:00 p.m. EDT, a supercell formed near Charlottesville and Fredericksburg, Virginia. These two cells would end up causing the most problems.
The Charlottesville cell produced a brief F0 at Lake Pelham in Culpeper, Virginia. However, it didn’t take long for the cell to unleash what became the strongest tornado of the day. This F4 tornado started in Rixleyville and would flatten a three-story brick house before settling in Jeffersonton. It would soon dissipate near Warrenton.
Meanwhile, the Fredericksburg cell would produce an F0 near Dale City, Virginia before moving to the Washington DC metro area. This storm then produced an F1 that started near Springfield, Virginia before moving towards DC. This tornado passed the Jefferson Memorial and traveled just south of the Washington Monument. Then, the only killer tornado in this outbreak would form as the storm immediately moved out of the District of Columbia.
College Park, MD would be hardest hit by this F3 tornado as the University of Maryland was also hit in the city. The Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute was completely destroyed, but everyone inside the building sheltering to the south survived. The USDA Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville also suffered extensive damage with impacted greenhouses and other facilities. This tornado would eventually dissipate near Columbia, MD after being on the ground for 17.5 miles.
There were 11 tornadoes that occurred in this outbreak. Additional tornadoes such as the following not shown in previous images were:
- Parkville, Pennsylvania – F2
- Fabius, NY – F0
- Aulander, NC – F0
Unfortunately, there were two fatalities in the College Park tornado, and both of these people were students who went to the University of Maryland. To date, this remains one of the worst tornado outbreaks to directly affect the Baltimore-DC metro area.