The computer models for Sunday, April 28, 2002 revealed a potentially dangerous setup for severe
weather.The atmospheric ingredients
included a moist, southerly flow at the surface ahead of a strong low-pressure
center moving through northwestern Pennsylvania, a belt of strong winds aloft crossing the Middle
Atlantic region, and an approaching cold front.As morningrain showers gave way to afternoon sunshine, the
volatile air mass was heated, which added further instability to the atmosphere.
During the morning of April 28, the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) in Norman, Oklahoma forecasted a moderate risk of severe weather, including
the risk of tornadoes, for much of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C. As thunderstorms moved through West Virginia, the SPC issued a Tornado Watch for the entire Washington area. Soon thereafter, a supercell
thunderstorm developed over eastern West Virginia.It spawned the
first tornado at in Shenandoah County, Virginia, and caused major damage. Over two dozen homes and farm
buildings were demolished, and 75 other homes, businesses, and farm structures
As the rotating thunderstorm raced
east through north central Virginia at 40-50 mph, it produced hail and hurricane-force wind
gusts in Culpeper and Fauquier counties, with golf
ball-size hail reported near Dale City, Virginia.When the supercell thunderstorm crossed the Potomac River
around , a second, stronger tornado touched
down along the southwest flank of the storm in CharlesCounty.
The tornado stayed on the ground for
nearly 70 miles as it sped along at 45-55 mph through Charles and CalvertCounties in Maryland.It then crossed
the Chesapeake Bay and continued its rampage through much of DorchesterCounty on the Maryland Eastern Shore. Observers reported seeing
twin tornadoes near the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant and over the Chesapeake Bay.In addition, baseball- and softball-sized
hail was observed in the vicinity of Pomfret, La Plata, and Hughesville, Maryland.(The supercell thunderstorm that produced the tornadoes and hail
in Maryland tracked from West Virginia to the Atlantic
One of the hardest hit areas was
concentrated around the town of La Plata in CharlesCounty. Parts of the quiet, southern Maryland community could only be described as a war zone. There
was massive destruction in the downtown section, including the town’s shopping
center and business establishments – located adjacent to the intersection of
Routes 6 and 301.Winds were so violent
that some homes were completely swept off their foundations and trees were
stripped of their bark.La Plata bank
receipts were found 70 miles away by a man in Seaford, Delaware.
The storm and tornado damaged or
destroyed 860 homes and 194 businesses in southern Maryland.Five lives were
lost and at least 120 were injured.Property damage was estimated in excess of $100 million.
Officials from the National Weather
Service said the tornado’s winds fluctuated from 100 mph (F1 on the Fujita
Scale) to nearly 260 mph (F4 on the Fujita Scale) during its 90-minute life
cycle. Tragically, the tornado peaked to F4 intensity as it moved through the
town of La Plata.The tornado was
F4 strength for only one minute while it moved through downtown La Plata.Note: The
National Weather Service initially rated the tornado an F5 on the Fujita Scale.
However, subsequent surveys of the damage by structural engineers and
meteorologists revealed the destruction was more consistent with damage caused
by an F4 tornado, with winds of 207 to 260 mph.