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Two small tornadoes touch down in Capital Region Wednesday

Two small tornadoes touch down in Capital Region Wednesday

Little damage done in Johnstown and Saratoga Springs
Two small tornadoes touch down in Capital Region Wednesday
People keep under cover as a storm rolls through at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs on Wednesday, August 21, 2019.
Photographer: Erica Miller/Gazette Photographer

JOHNSTOWN & SARATOGA -- Two tornadoes touched down in the Capital Region Wednesday, one in Johnstown and the other in Saratoga Springs. 

The National Weather Service in Albany's survey team confirmed that a class E1 tornado touched down in Johnstown at 2:24 p.m. The tornado had a width of about 150 feet, traveled a quarter mile from Johnson Avenue to Pleasant Avenue, with winds blowing up to 85 miles per hour.

The second tornado, also an E1, hit Saratoga Springs at 3:35 p.m. near where Route 29 and Schallehn Road intersect. 

Ingrid Amberger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the tornado in Saratoga Springs also traveled about a quarter mile, but was the more powerful of the two, with winds up to 105 miles per hour, and denser, with a width of 75 feet. She said the damage survey in Saratoga Springs showed some downed trees and damage to a house and a barn.

She said on average New York state gets about two tornados every August. So far this year, the state had only one tornado before Wednesday. In 2018 there were 11 tornadoes; in 2017 there were 12. 

"If conditions are right, these were separate storms, you can get more than one tornado," Amberger said. "In late spring into the summer, that's typically when we have them. When you have severe thunderstorms, it's a clashing of air masses, and you can get cold air coming down from Canada and warm air up from the Gulf. Later in the year you don't have that in New York state."

Neither tornado resulted in any injuries but up to 11,000 people in the Capital Region lost power, according to National Grid.

Tornadoes are graded by intensity on the "Enhanced Fujita" scale, which ranges from EF0 -- such things as roof damage, pushed over rotten trees and broken branches --  to an EF5, which can result in major damage to even steel-reinforced concrete structures. 

"We typically have 0s or 1s, infrequently we'll have an E3, but we don't get the stronger tornadoes like they have in the plains," Amberger said. 

Tornadoes at the E1 scale can strip roofs, overturn mobile homes, break windows and pull off house doors. 

Steven Santa Maria, the Fulton County emergency management services coordinator, said county emergency management personnel and the Johnstown Fire Department helped survey the damage for the National Weather Service. 

"Our findings indicated that there was a path of damage starting at Earl Road, continuing across State Highway 29, then across O'Neil Ave, proceeding on to Pleasant Ave, across Pleasant Ave, and ended on, or near, Irving Street in the city of Johnstown," Santa Maria said. "This damage was documented and forwarded to the National Weather Service."

Johnstown Fire Chief Bruce Heberer said in his 32 years as a firefighter in Johnstown there has never been a National Weather Service certified tornado in the city, although there were some "tornadic winds" near the Holiday Inn on Route 30A in the early 2000s. He said there were about 15 trees knocked down in the city, including damage on Matthew Street and Walnut Street. He said he's glad it wasn't worse.

"It did a lot of damage to trees and foliage, but in terms of damage to houses people were quite lucky," he said. "We had some damage to a couple of porches, and one tree hit a house and took out its electric service, but it was minor damage compared to what it could have been."

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