CAPITAL REGION — Tens of thousands of utility customers spent Saturday waiting for their power to be restored, and many were also clearing fallen trees from their properties, after severe thunderstorms — including a weak tornado — rolled through the Capital Region early Friday evening.
Saratoga and Washington counties were particularly hard-hit by a series of intense storms that formed in the mountains of Herkimer County and moved east, bringing several rounds of heavy winds, hail and lightning that brought down trees and power lines, resulting in widespread power outages.
After conducting a damage survey on Saturday, the National Weather Service concluded that a tornado briefly touched down in the town of Wilton, just north of Saratoga Springs. While tornadoes are rare but not unheard of in the Northeast and usually cause limited damage, a Memorial Day weekend tornado in 1998 did extensive damage to housing in Mechanicville and Stillwater, in Saratoga County.
The tornado was ranked an EF-1, with estimated wind speeds of 85-90 mph. It traveled about 1.8 miles across the northern part of Wilton, the weather service said, and caused no known injuries.
The tornado touched down at 5:59 p.m. near the intersection of Nichols and Woodward roads, and tracked east, crossing state Route 9 before it lifted up at the intersection of Wilton-Gansevoort Road and Blanchard Road.
“The path was nearly continuous with several softwood trees snapped and uprooted (some onto houses) and street signs blown down and displaced,” according to a weather service statement. “Also, part of the sheeting of a warehouse roof was peeled off and landed on a van, and an empty trailer was blown on top of a van.”
The entire region was under a tornado watch during the storm; there were several brief tornado warnings issued for northern parts of Saratoga and Washington counties.
The storms were caused by a classic spring combination of a cold air front colliding with warm and moist air. “It got pretty warm and a little humid (Friday), and that provides the fuel for thunderstorms. Then we had a cold front coming in, and that pushed out the storms ahead of them,” said Dan Thompson, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
National Grid said more than 71,000 customers were without power at the height of the damage, and while there were still more than 23,000 customers without power at mid-morning Saturday, the number dropped steadlily through the day. As of 6 p.m. Saturday, there were still about 6,000 customers, mostly in northern Saratoga County, waiting for their service to be restored.
The Saratoga Springs area saw particularly heavy tree damage and power outages. State Route 9P was closed for a time due to a large tree across the road, and a building was damaged at the New York Racing Association’s Oklahoma training track, which isn’t currently in use because of coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
Volunteers from the Northeastern New York Chapter of the American Red Cross provided immediate emergency aid to 10 people after their homes were damaged, the organization said. It assisted two residents at a trailer park on Route 9P and another resident on Grange Road in Greenfield Center with shelter, food and clothing. Two people living on Peters Road in Gansevoort received similar assistance. In another storm-related incident, five people were assisted in Gloversville.
The National Weather Service conducted a damage surveys in parts of Saratoga, Washington, Herkimer and Ulster counties on Saturday. Members of the public sent the service multiple photos of trees down in the Saratoga area that the agency later posted on social media.
National Grid said more than 1,600 line, service, tree, damage assessment and public safety employees were working on the response, including a line crew brought in from western New York. In anticipation of the forecast severe weather, the company said extra personnel were pre-deployed into the Capital Region.