12:35 p.m. update: See comments section of this post for response from University of Maryland Chief of Police regarding issuing of tornado alerts, and comments from CWG staff and readers.
Yesterday’s storms didn’t produce much in the way of damage in the immediate metro area. But they did produce a confirmed tornado near Quantico, put on a thunder and lightning show for many, and stirred some controversy at the University of Maryland in College Park.
Things started with a surprise wake-up call - as early as around 4-5 a.m. in some parts of the area - in the form of heavy rain and intense thunder and lightning. Some of our Facebook page visitors wondered if it was another earthquake:
Sohini Baliga: Closer to 7:15 in NoVa. Just in time to wake the kids. (Have to say, I did wonder for a moment if it was another quake. Because it was such a deep booming bit of thunder.)
Laura Moske May: For a second, thought it might be another aftershock . . .
Cynthia Lee Adler: No kidding about the house shaking here in Great Falls! The lightning was pretty intense, too. For a moment I thought it was August
Late morning through mid-afternoon brought a relative lull in the action, before radar lit up again during the late afternoon and the National Weather Service issued a Tornado Watch for the area.
The worst of the storms came through during the 4-8 p.m. period and included two tornado warnings issued by the National Weather Service, covering parts of Stafford, Prince William, Fauquier and Fairfax counties.
Yesterday evening, the National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado had been on the ground in Prince William County at 5:30 p.m.:
TORNADO CONFIRMED BY VIDEO CROSSING INTERSTATE 95S JUST NORTH OF THE ENTRANCE TO QUANTICO. LOCATION ESTIMATED BASED ON VIDEO AND RADAR. ....
Weather Service damage reports from yesterday’s storms included trees down in Oakton (Fairfax co.) and Calverton (Fauquier Co.), damage to a building and trees down (Stafford Co.), significant damage to a home and barn in Midland (Fauquier Co.), and flooding in parts of Loudoun and Fairfax counties.
Tornado alert controversy in College Park
Where was there not a tornado yesterday? College Park, Md., for one. Which is why a message sent around 6:30 p.m. yesterday (and a similar one sent shortly thereafter) to those subscribed to UMD Alerts has caused quite a hubub:
A tornado is forecast to strike the campus within the next 13 minutes. Seek shelter immediately.
Sent by UMD Alerts to All users (E-mail, Pagers, Cell phones) through UMD Alerts
ABC2 news has learned that the alert actually came from the company, Sky Guard, which is affiliated with Accuweather. The company issues weather forecasts, warnings and watches for its clients, including the University of Maryland.
A spokesman with Accuweather said they do not base their alerts on the National Weather Service’s forecasts; instead they look at the raw data and make their own determinations. The spokesman said they were glad to get the warning out on Thursday and that people took cover when they needed to.
And the Washington Post reports:
In College Park, University of Maryland officials issued a series of warnings alerting the campus that tornadoes could be iminent, but no such activity arrived and no damage was reported, said Capt. Marc Limansky, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety. The alerts were based on forecasts from a commercial weather service and were sent as a precaution, Limansky said.
WJLA provides a rundown of what happened and some reaction. On Twitter, many berated the school (and AccuWeather) for crying wolf and deviating from the National Weather Service, which did not issue any tornado warnings anywhere near College Park yesterday, while some applauded a better-safe-than-sorry approach. Coincidentally, last month marked the 10-year anniversary of a tornado that touched down in College Park, killing two students.
We’d love to hear from you on this topic with a comment below, especially if you were among those who received the UMD alert.
More storm-related reading and multimedia:
Amazing tornado videos near Fredericksburg: Here (may contain strong language) and here
Washington Post news story
WUSA9 story and viewer video
Patch.com story on UMD tornado alert
UMD Diamondback blog on tornado alert
University Police stand behind strong reaction to tornado threat