A National Weather Service ground team was in northeastern Berks County on Monday to inspect damage for a wind storm Sunday night that caused power outages affecting several hundred Met-Ed customers.
The top recorded wind gust in Berks County was 63 mph. It was recorded in the Lowe’s Home Improvement parking lot near Hamburg just after 6:30 p.m., but it’s likely that gusts even stronger than that occurred where there were no instruments available, said Randy Adkins, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.
“I think we can say with a fair amount of confidence that wind gusts of 65 to 70 mph occurred, and it’s not out of the question that there were gusts even stronger than that,” he said.
Adkins said the line of heavy thunderstorms that ripped through the eastern half of Berks on Sunday evening more closely resembled squalls than thunderstorms because there was barely any lightning.
He hasn’t seen any data that would indicate a twister touched down, but the atmospheric conditions that existed Sunday night presented the potential for a very brief spin-up to occur.
Kutztown Fire Company crews were busy responding to trouble spots in their coverage area including Maxatawny Township in the immediate aftermath of the storm, Deputy Chief Mike Russo said.
The most serious damage occurred north of Interstate 78 in Maxatawny Township, he said.
While checking for downed power lines and trees on roads, they came upon a partial building collapse on Kunkel Road in the township. Winds peeled the roof almost completely off the shed that property owner Arlan Berger uses for his excavating business.
Berger said he was in his house when he heard what sounded like a large firecracker detonating.
“I thought someone was shooting at my house,” he said.
No one was hurt.
Russo said the weather service team gathered evidence for analysis to determine if the damage was caused by straight-line wind or a twister.
Severe damage in this region is often attributed to straight-line wind gusts, which are spawned from downdrafts — intense columns of air that shoot from thunderstorm clouds, smack the ground and spread sideways in gusts, according to meteorologists.
While a tornado’s rotations scatter debris everywhere, straight-line winds live up to their name and blow in one direction.
More than 9,000 Met-Ed customers in Berks were without power at the height of the storm, with about 1,300 of them in Maxatawny, said Todd Meyers, a spokesman with Met-Ed parent company FirstEnergy Corp.
Statewide, Met-Ed was faced with more than 100,000 outages, he said.
Rockland Township was another eastern Berks municipality hit hard by the storm, with outages affecting 500 on Sunday night. In Reading, there were about 400 customers affected on Sunday night.
The Berks outages were reduced to fewer than 1,400 customers by daybreak Tuesday, and by noon it was down to fewer than 600.
Meyers said service is expected to be restored to the remaining customers by daybreak Tuesday.
Initial estimates that Met-Ed would need until 6 p.m. Tuesday to restore service were made before crews had an opportunity to go out and assess the damage, he explained.
Meyers said Met-Ed’s first priority in restoring outages is to protect the public by making things safe.
The damage would have been a lot worse without mitigation efforts by Met-Ed, he said.
“Potent windstorms like the one you experienced Sunday bring down trees and limbs which damage our poles, wires and transformers,” Meyers said. “To help mitigate this, Met-Ed spent nearly $30 million this year to trim trees and control vegetation along 3,200 miles of power line corridors this year. These trees are along our rights-of-way where we have legal power to do the work.
“Unfortunately, most tree damage is caused by off-right-of-way trees beyond our easements and ability to trim without permission from property owners.”
Meyers urged residents to stay away from downed wires because they could be live wires even though they’re not sparking.
(Reporter Lisa Scheid contributed to this story.)