Harold Vannoy of Quarryville drove through a severe storm in Oklahoma 20 years ago, but it paled in comparison to the tornado in eastern Lancaster County.

“The visibility from the rain was nearly zero,” he said of Wednesday night’s storm in the White Horse area of Salisbury Township. “It was the worst I've driven through.”

The National Weather Service categorized the tornado as an EF2 and estimated wind speeds as high as 125 mph. Spokeswoman Barbara Watson said the tornado was on ground for 5 to 6 miles, sweeping a quarter-mile path of destruction in its wake.

"It was a pretty strong tornado, particularly for February," she said.

The tornado caused an estimated $8 million damage to around 50 structures in White Horse, said Randy Gockley, director of the county's Emergency Management Agency.

It knocked out power to 2,400 people in Lancaster County, PPL reported. Most got electricity back by sometime Thursday.

“There is a lot more damage than we expected,” said White Horse Fire Chief Rodney Gossert, who served as incident commander.

Gossert outlined the path of the tornado Thursday.

“Spring Garden and Amish Roads is ground zero,” he said. “That was the first point of contact. Debris for the next half mile is major.” That intersection is a mile and a half north of Route 30.

Five buildings collapsed in a small area along Millwood Road, he said. State police closed off a section of the road Thursday to help cleanup efforts.

Three more buildings fell in the area of School Lane Road and Old Philadelphia Pike (Route 340).

The storm path went northeast to Route 340, where it turned north for about a quarter mile before returning to its northeast direction, Gossert said. The storm debris path narrowed in the last few hundred yards before ending at Meadville and Buchland roads.

No deaths or injuries have been reported from the storm, Gockley said.

He lauded the National Weather Service for issuing a tornado warning for an area that included White Horse. He said residents in the storm’s path sought shelter as a result.

“The warning system worked very well to minimize people losing lives or serious injuries,” he said.


Related: 29 tornadoes in Lancaster County in 66 years


‘I felt wind moving the truck’

Vannoy transports an Amish flooring company crew, pulling a 16-foot trailer for their tools behind his heavy-duty pickup truck.

They were at a job at a farmhouse along Route 897 when a tornado warning alert sounded on his iPhone around 7 p.m. , halting work for the day.

To drop off the workers at their homes, Vannoy slowly drove through Gap and Christiana, through high winds and pounding rain.

“I felt wind moving the truck around a little bit and the trailer,” he said. Vannoy drove on Route 372 to Route 896 through Nine Points in Bart Township to Noble Road and Bell Road and then on Route 472 to Kirkwood.

National Weather Service personnel with the help of a state police helicopter assessed the storm damage in the White Horse area and determined a tornado had touched down.

Some cows and other livestock were trapped under collapsed buildings during the storm, but how many died or were injured is not yet known, Gockley said.

“We’ve had some serious tornadoes come through the county,” Gockley said. “This being in the month of February is extremely unusual.”

Cleanup

Amish and other workers were clearing various materials out of damaged barns Thursday. They were already constructing a new roof on an Amish  schoolhouse along School Lane Road, just off Route 340.

Metal straps blown off buildings collected along a fence and some residents were picking up scrap metal in fields.

Marlene Turner, of Perry County, was driving several Lancaster County friends to help with the storm damage cleanup. They went to a damaged barn in White Horse and then to a store along Route 340 for supplies.

She's never seen storm damage like it before.

“It's a shocker, the way the barn looked,” Turner said.

An Amish man who declined to give his name said two chicken houses and six animal barns were damaged in White Horse.

Rick Glatfelter delivers gas to the Amish for cooking and other purposes, a job made harder after Route 340 was closed due to storm damage.

"You take that away, then you got to stick to the country roads," he said. About half of his dozen deliveries today are in Salisbury Township.

February tornado

Millersville University Meteorologist Eric Horst said the tornado was part of a “powerhouse” low-pressure storm hundreds of miles across.

One line of thunderstorms with straight-line winds entered Lancaster County from the west around 6:30 p.m.

Gockley said the storm damaged roofs and downed utility lines in several areas, including West Donegal and Penn townships.

The line of storms which ultimately produced the tornado came from the south, Horst said. On weather radar, he noticed clear rotation in winds 8,000 feet high in the Quarryville area 5 or 10 minutes before the tornado warning was issued just after 7 p.m.

The storms packed downpours. In 20 minutes, .7 inches of rain fell in Millersville. Across the county, 1 to 2 inches of rain fell Wednesday.

Firefighters rescued two women from their car roof after they drove into high water along Snakehill Road in Upper Leacock Township, East Lampeter Township police Lt. Robin Weaver said. They were not injured.

Wind wasn’t just strong where the tornado struck, Horst said. It was 30-35 mph in Lancaster, but gusts may have reached 60 to 80 mph in West Donegal Township.

Severe weather season begins with the start of March, so more strong storms should be expected, Horst said.

“El nino springs can be very active.”

Potential tornado path

PREVIOUSLY REPORTED:

A county official said storm damage shows strong indications that a tornado touched down in Salisbury Township Wednesday night.

"I would be very surprised if that's not the case," Lancaster County Emergency Management Agency spokesman Duane Hagelgans said late Wednesday night.

He said officials from the National Weather Service will respond to the county Thursday to survey damage and determine if a tornado did touch down.

A tornado watch was issued at 3 p.m. and was upgraded to a warning just after 7 p.m.

The area of White Horse, about four miles north of Gap, took the brunt of the storm, which began to move into the western part of the county around 6 p.m.

Hagelgans said the storm tore a two-mile-long path through the village. He said the cell appeared to move southwest to Old Philadelphia Pike (Route 340), traveled down 340, then hooked northeast.

Forty homes sustained damage and six roads remained closed late Wednesday, according to Hagelgans.

No injuries were reported. Hagelgans said American Red Cross representatives were responding to the area to aid residents with shelter.

Multiple building collapses were reported as the severe weather moved through the area.

Two 600-foot chicken houses, two large barns and a greenhouse were downed in the 300 block of Millwood Road near White Horse. The owner said the buildings contained 16,000 birds.

Across the street, a roof was blown from a house. Pieces of metal were lodged in some trees, many of which were stripped of their branches.

About a mile away, the storm caused the collapse of a barn at 5494 Old Philadelphia Pike and tore off part of the roof of Pequea Evangelical Congregational Church, at 5482 Old Philadelphia Pike.

Hagelgans said an Amish school on Kauffroth Road was destroyed.

Fire officials responding to the area reported that a "major event went through," according to radio dispatches. They asked that Lancaster County Emergency Management Agency be notified of "major" damage.

One person described the area as "destruction."

The Lancaster County Rescue Task Force and the Lancaster County-Wide Communications Field Communications Unit responded to the White Horse Fire Company where a command station has been established.

Reports of downed trees and wires began to come in to Lancaster County-Wide Communications as severe weather began moving into the western part of the county.

In West Donegal Township, near Elizabethtown, a partial building collapse was reported on East Harrisburg Avenue while a roof was blown off a building on Bossler Road.

In Leacock Township, crews battled a two-alarm fire, at 3068 Irishtown Road, at the height of the storm.

State police fire marshal Jerry Harper said Thursday that the $400,000 blaze was caused by a lightning strike to the eastern end of the home, which was unoccupied at the time.

High water was reported on several roads during and after the storm. Emergency crews were called out to help stranded motorists in Salisbury, Rapho, Mount Joy, Sadsbury and Manhiem townships.

More than 2,400 PPL customers were without power at one point during the storm. The utility reported about 2,100 customers without power at 10:45 p.m. and 739 without power at 7 a.m. Thursday.

PPL spokesman Paul Wirth said about 28,000 customers throughout the utility's multi-county coverage area lost power at some point during the storm and 21,000 had it restored by 7 a.m. Thursday.

The majority of the rest are expected to have electricity back sometime Thursday.

The worst areas were the Poconos and the Wilkes-Barre and Scranton areas.

The following municipalities in Lancaster County had the greatest number of residents without power as of 7 a.m. Thursday:

Providence Township, 290; Salisbury Township, 219; Fulton Township, 83; Rapho Township, 47; Drumore Township, 35;  Mount Joy Township, 18; Elizabethtown, 16; West Hempfield Township, 16.

(Staff members Christopher Pratt and Casey Kreider contributed to this report.)

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