Published: 05/17/2022 22:03:05
Modified: 05/17/2022 22:01:18
CHARLESTOWN – Wes Carter was driving through Charlestown when he spotted a dark, swirling funnel cloud ahead of him. The wind twisted the trees and urns along the road and the rain drummed against his car.
He stopped as the tornado headed towards him on the freeway, brushing past his car. Then he drove forward, skirting fallen trees. He captured the ordeal on his dash cam and uploaded it to YouTube.
A survey team confirmed it was a tornado with wind speeds reaching up to 90 miles per hour, said John Cannon, meteorologist at the National Weather Service station based in Grey, N.B. Maine.
The tornado touched down at 6:22 p.m. and traveled at least a mile. For most of its run, it was a zero on the Enhanced Fujita Scale – which measures tornado intensity and goes up to 5 – with speeds below 72 mph. But it picked up speed as it moved north across the Claremont town line, Cannon said.
“There was a lot of tree damage,” Cannon said. “It was a few miles from downtown Claremont so didn’t hit downtown.”
The tornado has the distinction of being the sixth oldest tornado on record in New Hampshire, where the weather service has been collecting data since 1950, Cannon said.
In New England, tornadoes are not the frequent threat that they are in the flat expanses of the Midwest. But they’re not unheard of either, and they’re more common in the summer months of June through August. New Hampshire averages two tornadoes a year, Cannon said.
A tornado is a violent, fast-moving column of air that expands from a thunderstorm to the ground. The wind itself is invisible, but the water droplets, dust and debris it carries can form a swirling gray funnel. According to the Northeastern States Emergency Consortium, they can appear so suddenly that there is little time left to warn people to seek shelter.
New England’s hilly landscape makes it difficult for a tornado to sustain and reach the most dangerous speeds. When a tornado approaches a hill, the rugged terrain stirs up the air and “stops the flow” of a tornado, Palmer said. Often this is enough to destroy it.
“Rarely have we had a more intense tornado than an EF 2,” Palmer said. In an enhanced Fujita 2 tornado, winds reach speeds of 111 to 135 mph.
Damage was mostly limited to the main road where the suspected tornado touched down, said Diane Dezan, human resources manager at Charlestown. This morning she was able to drive on Route 12 to get to work. The state was responsible for cleaning along the route, she said. The hail and high winds did not cause significant damage to personal property to his knowledge.
Meanwhile in Claremont, the wind had toppled trees over power lines and smashed several utility poles along an approximately ¾ mile stretch of Claremont Road. Some power lines were also down near the North Charlestown Community School.
And in Grantham, the storm was so violent that lightning struck a house. Heavy smoke billowed from the house as first responders extinguished the flames.
Claire Potter is a member of the Report for America body. She can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3242.