Saybrook residents report twister uprooted trees

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
July 25, 2008

OLD SAYBROOK — Some residents reported what they thought was a tornado or funnel cloud during a day of wild weather Wednesday.

Several people in the School House Road area north of Interstate 95 called Old Saybrook police and the National Weather Service reporting a funnel cloud moving through their backyards. Deputy Chief Michael Spera said that there were twisted and uprooted trees in the neighborhood, but no houses were damaged.

But police and weather officials said it is unclear whether there was a tornado or other unusual phenomenon, or whether it was just a powerful thunderstorm.

“We did have reports of a funnel cloud by a couple different folks in the Old Saybrook area from the thunderstorms that moved across, but we have nothing confirmed in terms of any damage related to tornadoes,” said Jeff Tongue, science and operations officer with the National Weather Service in Upton, N.Y. “As far as we know, there was no tornado.”

A funnel cloud is the “precursor to a tornado” before it has touched the ground, Tongue said. Alternatively, Spera said, the event may have been a microburst, a column of high downward winds.

Spera said state police contacted the National Weather Service to conduct an investigation of the incident, but Tongue said he was not aware of one at his office, which covers southern Connecticut. He added that funnel clouds or tornadoes are “very rare” in Connecticut, with one or two occurring each year.

“Most are extremely small — many actually go undetected,” he said. “I’d say it’s a very rare meteorological (event) in the Northeast.”

The National Weather Service will conduct an investigation in cases of heavy damage, Tongue said. If it concludes that a tornado occurred, officials will assign a severity rating to the twister.

He added that the Weather Service did not issue a tornado warning for the area yesterday. Spera said several houses in Old Saybrook were struck by lightning and the downtown area was flooded with about 4 inches of water, which has now receded.

“It was a very fast, quick-moving storm — nothing that we’re not used to in the summertime,” he said. “It’s something that public safety expects during the summer months.”

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