Strong winds and torrential downpours raced through Schenectady County Wednesday evening, leaving a path of toppled trees and downed power lines from the western part of Rotterdam through the city’s Bellevue neighborhood.
Though there were some reports of funnel clouds, the National Weather Service in Albany couldn’t confirm whether a tornado touched down in the county or elsewhere in the Capital Region. Earlier in the evening, the weather service issued a tornado warning for parts of Schenectady County and southern Saratoga County, suggesting a high likelihood of one forming and urging people to take shelter.
“It’s possible but we don’t have any confirmation,” said Meteorologist Hugh Johnson.
A preliminary review of the storm suggests it was a band of high winds called a bow echo system, a weather pattern that can produce highly damaging straight-line winds. Johnson said the pattern — named because it’s shaped like an archer’s bow — may have prevented a tornado from forming.
“The wall of wind probably interrupted the rotation,” he said.
National Grid reported about 32,000 customers without power throughout the Capital Region on Wednesday night, with about a third located in Schenectady. The utility company indicated that most outages would be repaired by this morning.
In Schenectady, there was significant damage in the vicinity of Broadway and Campbell Avenue, including large trees that were uprooted by high winds and utility poles that were snapped in half.
Denise Glenn was in the living room of her Cora Street apartment when the system blew through. The heavy rains it brought were followed by the ominous sound of the fast-moving system barreling into Bellevue.
“It sounded like a freight train coming through,” she said.
And that’s when the maple tree fell. The massive 3-foot-wide trunk was uprooted from the city’s right-of-way and came crashing into the two-story home, puncturing parts of the structure’s roof and walls with its branches.
Aaron Rendo, a driver for UPS and the owner of the home, happened to be in his truck on Broadway when the storm hit. He immediately thought of the tree — how he and his wife Gina had warned the city it might topple onto their property.
“We said ‘please take that tree down,’ ” he recalled.
“Well,” Gina Rendo sighed as she surveyed the damage, “now it’s down.”
City crews bustled on Broadway, which stayed closed from Campbell Avenue to near the Rotterdam border throughout the evening. Carl Olsen, Schenectady’s commissioner of general services, said the storm left a lot of cleanup work for the city.
“We’ll have a couple days’ work here,” he said, looking up at a massive uprooted pine tree looming over a Fourth Street home.
Similar damage extended through the western part of Rotterdam, where five Highway Department crews worked through the night to clear debris. Highway Superintendent James Longo said the storm seemed to carve a path of destruction through the western end of town, ripping up trees and in one case tearing off part of a roof.
“The western end of town took a real beating,” he said. “I tell you what, there’s a hell of a lot of damage out here.”
Tornado warnings sent many scrambling for cover as the storm bore down on the county. At the Niskayuna Central School District, people attending the Board of Education meeting at the Van Antwerp Middle School sought refuge in the building’s basement until the storm passed over.
But Niskayuna seemed to escape the damage seen in the city and Rotterdam. Still, Highway Superintendent Frank Gavin said the storm coupled with another powerful system that dumped massive amounts of rain last week left the town with a mess to clean up — one worse than the double dose of tropical storms that struck in 2011.
“We’re still clearing trees from last week,” he said. “These two storms hit us worse.”