Meteorologists knew Thursday July 26, 2012, was going to be an active weather day.
A strong system pushed through the eastern United States, causing damaging winds, large hail, severe thunderstorms, and even tornados, some of which were close to home.
“You’ve got about 5 to 10 minutes to get to your safe place, which would be down in the basement or the inner most part of your home,” former 18 Storm Team Meteorologist Joe Pasquarelli said. “Again, this is a Doppler radar indicated tornado.”
Just after 3 p.m., the tornado reports started coming in. First in Potter County Pennsylvania then, closer to 4 p.m., residents in Steuben and Chemung Counties were alerted for what was headed their way.
“My phone went off in an alarming way, and I was able to take shelter,” resident Cynthia Huling Hummel said.
“We were all behind a filing cabinet, but I was kind of peaking over the top,” Deputy Director of Chemung County Emergency Management Kristin Card said. “You could see everything was going this way, and suddenly everything went that way.”
The tornado first touched down in Steuben County, creating a path length just under three miles long. The next spot to be hit was Chemung County, where the City of Elmira experienced a direct hit of an EF-1 tornado, which has winds speeds between 86 mph and 110 mph. That is when Card witnessed the tornado first hand.
“Those immediate hazards are your first concern,” Card said. “Getting those warnings out, but there is so much. What about the electric lines, what about trees that could still be hanging that could come down?”
On top of the dangerous winds, thunderstorms posed another threat.
“If you’re nearby a storm or a creek, anywhere along this line of thunderstorms, we could possibly be dealing with flash flooding in the near future as this storm continues it’s west to east track,” Pasquarelli said.
“It was really intense for a few minutes there, until we started to get some situational awareness,” Card said. “We started to get a handle on what was gone and what was not gone.”
The aftermath was devastating. Fallen trees, downed power lines, flooding, and more were all the result. Chemung county officials knew they had to act fast.
“They just put together these strike teams,” Card said. “They went out, and they systematically got the debris cleared from the road, and then they systematically got the debris cleared to the sidewalks. Once those right of ways between the road and the side walk were cleared, NYSEG could start putting polls back up, and we could start restoring power.”
If anything good came out of this storm, it would be the lesson that you need to make a safety plan now for you and your family. Don’t wait to be caught in a dangerous situation.
“Have those conversations now, on a day like today,” Card said.