A Recap Of The Maryland Tornado Outbreak

By: Mike Masco

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Friday’s tornado outbreak will go down in the record books as one of the most active severe weather day in Maryland history.  The total tornadoes confirmed so far from the National Weather Service sits at 9 with the hardest hit areas being centered over Harford, Carroll, and Howard counties.  Hundreds of wind and hail reports also contributed to the growing damage estimates that will easily exceed into the millions.

The Day Before. (Thursday)

On Thursday during ABC2 News at 11pm; I made the decision to go on air and heavily promote the idea that tornadoes would threaten the Baltimore viewing area.  It’s not an easy thing to do, going on television with a potential audience of a million people and telling them tornadoes are likely (in an area that typically does not see tornadoes).  Tiptoeing the imaginary “Hype” vs “conservative” line is a tough thing to do.  Sure, you want to get your message out but if you yell that message too loud and your forecast “busts” your credibility is tarnished.

This however, was different.  My confidence in this event was overwhelmingly supportive of a tornado outbreak.

On Thursday evening during the newscast I set the situation up like this.  A powerful cold front, we’ll call the “match” will be running into a pool of humidity that we will call “the gasoline”.  The obvious end result would NOT be good!  

I stayed up all night watching the latest computer models, analyzing the atmosphere, and coming up with a game plan in the back of my head on how I was going to handle the coverage.

The Day Of (Friday)

The morning of the event, I woke up to some humidity (not much) , a gusty wind, and some sunshine peaking through the clouds.  Coincidentally, the morning of June 1, 2012 started out much like the morning of June 1, 2011.  A year earlier (to that day) I was working for an ABC station in Massachusetts.  The day featured two massive tornadoes one registering an EF 3 level.  The tornado leveled dozens of homes in western Massachusetts, an area that VERY RARELY sees tornadoes.  I did find it extremely creepy that the same events unfolded for me exactly one year apart but that is a story for another blog.

I arrived at ABC 2 at 11:30am, preparing Maryland’s Most Powerful Radar and making graphics to be ready to go on the fly.  The humidity was climbing, the sun was coming out, the winds were breezy however, the radar remained dry.  In the mid levels of the atmosphere I watched a little ripple of energy moving through.  As the sun “cooked” the atmosphere that ripple responded by popping out tiny little thunderstorm cells.  These storms were not strong, (yet) most cloud tops reached only 20,000 ft into the air.  Remember the taller the thunderstorm the more violent it will become. 

At 1:30pm my news director and I discussed the event.  We talked about the what if’s and came up with a game plan should the worst happen.  Shortly before 2pm Tornado watches began to roll off the presses.  The web team at ABC2 decided we should stream online which I agreed was an excellent plan. 

At 2pm I went on air to talk about the watch and show where the storms were starting to build.  On the webcast I noted that the surface winds were increasing and the sunshine was fully out in Howard and Montgomery counties.  I knew the atmosphere was ready and that any storm rolling in would turn tornadic rapidly. 

At 2:30pm we decided it was time to go on air LIVE.  ABC 2 News was the first station in the market to break into programing, warning about this potentially dangerous and life threatening event. 

From 2:30 until 8:30 we stayed on air with Maryland’s Most Powerful Radar ..and the rest as they say is history!

The Setup

The setup involved a very strong low pressure center dropping out of central Canada and running into warm, moist air.  Now thousands of times we have seen this setup which has given Maryland strong and in many cases severe thunderstorms.  The only difference separating typical events to last Friday’s was a large amount of wind shear that accompanied these storms.  Typically we see such intense storm centers come this far south during the months of Oct – Feb when we have a higher sun angle and little to no humidity.  


The End Result

The National Weather Service teams have been out much of the day Saturday and Sunday surveying the damage across the region.  So far they have confirmed 9 Tornados in Howard, Carroll, Prince Georges, Montgomery, and Anne Arundel counties.  The strongest tornado report was an EF 1 reported in Howard county featuring winds between 86-110 miles per hour.

Here are the unedited reports from the National Weather Service

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