NOAA 2002-053
Contact: John Leslie
NOAA News Releases 2002
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A special damage assessment team from NOAA's National Weather Service today announced that the tornadoes that hit southern Maryland last month reached wind speeds of up to 260 miles per hour. The tornadoes – at their highest strength – ranked an F4 on the Fujita Tornado Damage Scale, with wind speeds between 207 and 260 mph. NOAA Weather Service is part of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Based on a thorough review of the damages throughout Charles, Calvert and Dorchester counties, the leader of the assessment team said the strongest of the three tornadoes on April 28, tore through sections of La Plata in Charles County at the F4 strength. The other tornadoes recorded that day were assessed at the F2 (113 - 157 mph) and F3 (158 - 206 mph) levels.

"Regardless of the final `F-strength,' this tornado outbreak was deadly, destroyed property and disrupted many lives throughout southern Maryland," said team leader John Ogren. "Tornadoes can kill at any strength, and can strike anywhere. We would like residents to be prepared and safe when a tornado threat occurs."

Ogren said the tornadoes began as a severe thunderstorm in West Virginia. The first tornado touched ground in Shenandoah County in Virginia at the F2 strength. The system produced the next tornado after it crossed the Potomac River into western Charles County, Maryland. It intensified as it neared La Plata, and produced widespread damages common with F2 and F3 wind speeds, and peaked at the F4 level in La Plata.

Ogren said tornado damage continued through Calvert and Dorchester counties and ended before reaching Salisbury.

"What makes this tornado unusual is that it was moving at 55 mph and left a damage path stretching nearly 70 miles," Ogren said.

The assessment team is preparing a full report on the incident. After large-scale weather events, NOAA's Weather Service routinely sends out service assessment teams to "discover ways the agency can improve its overall operations – from forecasts and warnings, to community outreach," said Ogren, head of NOAA's Weather Service forecast office in Indianapolis.

The final assessment report on the Maryland tornado outbreak will be released later this summer, he added.

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