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Microburst causes major damage to community

Photo by Robyn Lee Miller

By Chris Maza
Longmeadow News

LONGMEADOW – As severe thunderstorms rolled through Western Massachusetts on the evening of Saturday, July 6, what has been identified as a microburst by the National Weather Service struck the town, causing serious damage.

Photo by Robyn Lee Miller

The majority of the impact was to trees, though multiple buildings and vehicles were also affected. Luckily, according to Town Manager Stephen Crane, there were no serious injuries or loss of life associated with the storm.

The National Weather Service defines a microburst as a localized column of sinking air, also known as a downdraft, within a thunderstorm that can produce winds of up to 100 miles per hour and cause extensive damage. The microburst that struck Longmeadow featured winds estimated at up to 70 miles per hour.

Photo by Dominique Ingram

While the event that caused damage has been identified as a microburst, in response to several reports of a funnel cloud, the National Weather Service has requested any photographic evidence. Those who would like to submit photos to aid in this investigation can send them to Fire Chief John Dearborn, the town’s emergency management director.

While other areas experienced some effects of the event, town officials have identified the central impact zone as the area bounded by Longmeadow Street on the west, Shaker Road on the east, Bliss Road on the north, and Maple Road on the south.

As the town has commenced its cleanup, Crane commended department heads and emergency personnel for their quick work.

Photo by Amy Colamaria O’Connor

“There was a severe thunderstorm warning, but we didn’t receive any warning of the possibility of something like a microburst,” Crane said. “Once we realized what was happening and the severity, we opened an Emergency Operations Center.”

After the winds died down the town began damage assessments under the direction of Dearborn and defined the impacted area.

“Our focus is the recovery in that area and we are regularly assessing the situation,” Crane said.

The Department of Public Works quickly began removal of trees and debris from roadways and power was restored for most customers by Eversource in “a fairly short amount of time,” he added.

Photo by Anna Kilcoyne

A debris disposal site has been established in the parking lot of the Wolf Swamp Fields, which is dedicated to the collection of debris directly related to the storm. Town officials were also developing a special curbside collection schedule in the impacted area. Once that schedule is established, brush placed at the street edge or on the tree belt will be collected. For more information on debris collection, residents should contact the Department of Public Works at 413-567-3400.

“We have limited capacity at our Recycling Center, so this is a solution that gives our residents an opportunity to begin the cleanup process without overwhelming our current resources,” Crane said.

Photo by Issac Schein

Residents are encouraged to contact the Longmeadow Police Department at 413-567-3311 to report debris that is causing a public safety hazard.

When asked about the town’s financial readiness to address a weather event of this magnitude, Crane said officials are mindful of costs while still providing necessary services.

Photo by William Eagan

“Obviously safety for our residents is our top priority,” he said. “From the moment we started our recovery efforts, cost containment was a concern and we want to make sure the cost of our services doesn’t adversely impact our budget.”

In addition, some of the damage may be covered by insurance through the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association, a service provided by the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

Microbursts are not common in this region but have occurred in recent history. In July

2011, less than two months after a tornado tore through their town, Wilbraham residents had to clean up again after a microburst brought winds of 90 to 100 miles per hour. A microburst packing 100 mile per hour winds struck the Easthampton side of Mount Tom in 2014, causing severe damage to trees and homes.