March winds cause damage in Kent County

FELTON — If it wasn’t a tornado, it sure seemed like one.

A fierce combination of high winds and torrential rain rushed through Kent County on Wednesday afternoon and then was gone.

Left behind were uprooted trees, debris, downed power lines, overturned farm equipment and damaged buildings.

Fortunately, no injuries were reported.

Sonny Pries, 74, was working on a planting machine inside a steel building when he first heard sprinkles.

He’d watched dark clouds growing nearer to the farm for a few hours and expected some rain.

Then came a “boom” sound followed by another “boom.”

Mr. Pries looked out a window and saw large sheets of metal peeling off a nearby shed, along with a “wall of white rain” seemingly tearing through the yard.

“It seemed like it had a little twist to it,” he said.

Before long, visibility lessened to just a few feet.

Then came a sound that Mr. Pries had never experienced.

“I heard a freight train like people in the south describe when a tornado is coming through,” Mr. Pries.

“I’m sure it was not as big as those but it was definitely an incredibly loud sound. I thought something was sliding across the yard like a large container because the roar of it was so intense.”

The stormy burst may have lasted five minutes, possibly more or less; Mr. Pries had no concept of time elapsed from when the weather event started and when it ended.

“Things were happening so quickly I wasn’t paying attention,” he said. “There wasn’t time to be scared but I did feel like I was in shock for a few moments.”

According to Mr. Pries, “I’ve been through thunderstorms and very windy times, but nothing ever like this. I don’t know if it was a tornado but it was something I’d never experienced.”

Two steel buildings on the farm — owned by Mr. Pries’ son on Carpenters Bridge Road — and a home were damaged. Dozens of shingles were torn from the residence, and a large portion of roof separated from a barn.

A large hole indicated where a piece of splintered wood had punctured a steel wall. Below it, Mr. Pries said he pulled out the rest of the board that was buried more than a foot into the ground.

“The wood would have no doubt impaled someone if they were in the wrong place when it hit,” he said.

Some debris was found roughly 800 feet from the buildings, Mr. Pries said, and a large dumpster couldn’t hold all that was scattered around the property.

Also, Mr. Pries said he heard of at least five irrigation pivots overturned by the wind in nearby farm fields.

Bill Arrington, who lives a couple miles away on Del. 12, arrived to check on his friend early Thursday afternoon. Mr. Arrington said his home was damage free, but he heard the wind kick up the day before.

“It’s been gusting around here for the past 48 hours,” he said. “I don’t know what they would call whatever came through yesterday but I know it was mighty strong.”

Robert Boyer spent Thursday morning with a cleanup crew removing the broken-off part of a white pine tree that was 36 inches at the base and broke off about 10 feet up the trunk.

“It looked like a huge mess,” he said.

Boyer’s Tree Service received three calls on Thursday morning requesting service, none which were emergencies.

At his son’s great grandmother’s home on Killens Pond Road, Mr. Boyer said the busted tree had blocked a car garage and buckled the door as if a small vehicle had smashed into it.

“I’ve seen some trees damaged like this before, but not very often,” he said.

The National Weather Service reported that .18 inches of rain fell near Dover Air Force base at 3:58 p.m. on Wednesday and wind gusts regularly reached 30 to 40 mph. Another .18 inches of rain were recorded at 6:58 p.m.

Similarly breezy, blustery conditions continued on Thursday and were expected to continue to a lesser degree in the coming days.

The NWS forecast more high winds for today, with a cold front moving in for the weekend. Light rain and/or snow are possible for Friday. Temperatures are expected to be between 9 to 15 degrees below average on Saturday, and 3 to 8 degrees lower than normal on Sunday.

A warm front was forecast to arrive on Sunday night.

Delaware State Climatologist Dr. Daniel J. Leathers said Thursday’s Dover-area wind gusts were connected to the thunderstorms present.

“It is very typical for there to be strong wind gusts with the passage of thunderstorms,” Dr. Leathers said.

“The rain falling from thunderstorms drags cold, dense air from upper levels of the atmosphere to the surface. This is why the temperatures often drop so dramatically during thunderstorms.

“As this cold dense air hits the earth’s surface, it spreads out in all directions, causing strong wind gusts in the area of the thunderstorm.”

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