Tornado Whips Millersville-Severna Park

September 27, 1993

By Dan Hanson

Millersville, Maryland. A weak tornado skipped across the Millersville-Severna Park areas of central Anne Arundel County, Maryland on Monday causing extensive tree damage but only minor structural damage. On a day that saw several confirmed tornadoes in a path that stretched from Dulles Airport, Virginia, northeast through Anne Arundel County and continuing up to Wilmington, Delaware, residents of the affected areas experienced a weather phenomenon that few ever do. Maryland averages only a couple of tornadoes per year and those are usually very weak. In central Anne Arundel County there were three distinct areas that experienced damage. While all three areas lie in an east-west trajectory, the damage paths all progress east-northeast suggesting that there were in fact three separate tornadoes. The first tornado began over eastern Odenton, travelling east-northeast crossing Md. Rte. 32, cutting through the community of Wethersfield snapping and downing many trees and finished in the Millersville Landfill where, according to press reports, two workers in a trailer escaped major injuries as the trailer in which they sought shelter was thrown some 150 feet. The most bazaar and unfortunate incident of this twister was the flock of sea gulls that was killed when the vicious winds slammed them into a hillside as reported in the press. damage

The next damage area began about a mile further east over the Aurora Hills community where again many trees fell but damage to homes was limited to broken windows and punctured roofs as limbs whipped by the winds crashed in the houses. This tornado continued to move east- northeast and affected parts of the I-97 Business Park again downing many trees. As it crested the hill just south of the Interstate 97/Benfield Blvd. interchange, the tornado caused the most extensive tree damage so far before it quickly dissipated over the community of Shipley's Choice. Parts of Business Route 3 where closed until the fallen trees could be cleared. The final tornado had the longest path - extending nearly four miles. This twister touched down about one-half mile south of where the second twister ended and again travelled east-northeast. Its destructive path began just west-southwest of the community of Point Field Landing and continued through the communities of Ben Oaks, Chartwell, and dissipated over Earleigh Heights in Pasadena. Again many mature trees were heavily damaged but homes luckily escaped with only minor damage from the fallen trees. The National Weather Service at BWI Airport classified all of the separate damage areas as the result of one weak F1 tornado, estimating winds speeds of between 70 and 80 miles-per-hour.

But after I examined the three distinctly separate and noncontinuous paths the damage patterns, I conclude, were in fact three separate tornadoes. Because wind speeds were rather weak compared to those in classic Midwest twisters, some of the textbook damage patterns such as twisted trees and spiral debris trails not obvious so making the determination of tornado status was more difficult. But the damage areas were very narrow, only spanning about 200-300 yards at the widest, and many trees appeared to be "topped" by the whirlwind. Witnesses, though none saw the tornadoes because the sky turned black as night, all heard the classic freight train roar that accompanied these storms. Because of the extensive tree damage along the paths of the twisters, electrical power was cut to a number of amateur weather stations, including one directly in the path of the third twister, thus no accurate wind measurements could be obtained to gauge the full power of the storms.

The home of Charles and Paula Hanson (my parents) in the community of Point Field Landing, Millersville, was directly affected by the third twister. The automated weather station they have was rendered useless as the tornado had downed power lines several minutes before the twister struck. In the ten years I conducted daily weather records there, I never saw any damage remotely similar to the wrath of the tornado. Winds have gusted to 55 miles-per-hour on three previous occasions and caused virtually no damage. Judging from these past experiences, I concluded that the tornadic wind reached a speed of between 70 and 80 miles-per-hour. But the true speed will never be known.

This tornado outbreak was the first in this part of the county since Tropical Storm David passed through on September 5, 1979 and dropped a twister on parts of Gambrills, about three miles south of the affected areas. As the buzz of chain saws and tree shredders filled the air the next morning, residents of the county hoped they would not have to experience such a storm for just as many years to come.