by Tyler Molleur
HARDWICK – For residents of the Plainfield-Marshfield area, the warm weather which trickled in last week was a welcome change. The temperatures some two months ahead of their time, however, came with disadvantages, as strong thunderstorms caused tree damage.
The stretch of seasonally abnormal temperatures ended abruptly on Friday afternoon, as a dreary day culminated with a line of severe thunderstorms that caused tree damage in spots along the Route 2 corridor. Utility workers from both Washington Electric and Green Mountain Power spent the post-storm period restoring power to roughly 400 customers. For Washington Electric, this represented 100 percent of their Plainfield customer base.
Conditions favored severe weather on Friday afternoon, after several days of anomalously high temperatures funneled warm, moist air into the region. This combined with a powerful frontal system moving in from the southwest to provide lifting mechanisms and wind shear. In the process, several bowing segments of thunderstorms passed through central Vermont, with embedded areas of stronger winds and rotation within the storms.
The National Weather Service (NWS) in Burlington paid close attention to the pattern of damage left behind by one bowing segment, starting in the Tug Hill Plateau and extending to the Adirondacks in New York. Between the two states, 17 wind damage reports were recorded, including significant tree and isolated structure damage.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Conor Lahiff said conditions were being monitored closely as the bowing segments created bookend vortices, which are known to spin up tornadoes. In fact, severe outlooks for the day placed all of Vermont at a two percent risk for tornado development, which is significant by local standards.
“Any time we get put in a tornado threat, we take notice,” Lahiff said.
The same storm impacting northern Washington County was responsible for an EF-1 tornado just north and east of Middlebury, with maximum winds nearing 110 mph. Two injuries were reported, along with significant structural and tree damage in the area. The Burlington weather office suspects this is the second-earliest tornado ever reported. Vermont historical records show a total of 46 tornadoes confirmed in 60-plus years of record-keeping.
Two NWS employees traveled to the Montpelier area and determined damage in that region was not comparable to what was seen in Middlebury, and no investigation into additional tornadoes will be performed.
Record highs were recorded on Thursday in the region, reaching 69 in St. Johnsbury and 70 in Montpelier. These shattered the previous records of 57 (2003) and 64 (1996), respectively. Last Wednesday, both cities also reached the upper 60s, breaking old records set back in 2012. The average high for this time of year should be somewhere around 45 degrees, according to weather records from the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, while the highs seen last week are akin to mid-May normals.
Temperatures behind the storm system returned to near-normal. As the first day of April approaches, meteorologists are tracking a low-pressure system which looks to renew the chance for several inches of snow in the mountainous terrain, with most areas getting at least one to two inches.