Fifteen years ago on April 28th, 2002 a F4 tornado ripped through our small town of La Plata, Maryland toppling trees, destroying homes and buildings, and killing five. Read Washington Post's coverage from 2010 of the event below:
On this day (April 28) in 2002, the strongest tornado on record to hit Maryland flattened portions of Charles and Calvert counties, with the town of La Plata ground zero. The tornado was classified as an F4 (on the old Fujita scale) when it ripped through that town, indicating it possessed winds of 207-260 mph.
The National Weather Service in Sterling provides this account as the tornado slammed into La Plata:
The tornado strengthened and widened further as it moved into and through downtown La Plata. This intensification may have been aided by the rear-flank downburst. Streaks of damage observed through town was indicative of F3 and F4 damage on the Fujita Damage Scale. These streaks and eyewitness accounts lead us to believe that this was a multi-vortex tornado (more than one funnel circulating around the parent tornado circulation). Through downtown La Plata, the width of the damage (F1) extends out almost a half-mile (approximately 650 yards across). ... It must also be stated that the tornado was moving at an unusually fast speed of 50 knots (according to radar estimates) which is equal to 58 mph. That is nearly a mile a minute. Therefore, the damage ... happened in just a few seconds.
The tornado cut a damage path spanning 40 miles, destroying or damaging 800 homes and businesses and causing over $100 million in damage. In all, the storm killed 5 people in Charles and Calvert counties. In addition to the tornado, the responsible thunderstorm generated softball-sized hail.
Kevin Ambrose's Washington Weather Book describes the damage in La Plata:
Parts of the quiet, southern Maryland community could only be described as a war zone. There was massive destruction in the downtown section, including the town's shopping center and business establishments - located adjacent to the intersection of Routes 6 and 301. Winds were so violent that some homes were completely swept off their foundations and trees were stripped of their bark. La Plata bank receipts were found 70 miles away by a man in Seaford, Delaware.
This was neither the first nor the deadliest, tornado to hit La Plata. A tornado in 1926 killed 16, including 13 children when, on its 15 mile journey, it crushed a school house.
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