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Powerful Potsdam storm not a tornado

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POTSDAM — While Tuesday’s thunderstorm tore roofs off several buildings and cut power for thousands of residents, it was not a tornado, according to the National Weather Service.

Instead, “straight line winds” battered Potsdam and its surrounding area with gusts estimated at up to 80 miles per hour. Not to be confused with a tornado, which damages with circling and swirling winds, straight line winds are true to their name — they blow strongly in the same direction during especially severe thunderstorms.

“It’s what we call a ‘super cell,’” said Andy Nash, a NWS meteorologist working out of Burlington, Vt, about the overall storm. “It almost has a life of its own and just keeps on going.”

The storm, which Mr. Nash called “fairly significant but not unheard of,” made its way through New York and into central Vermont, he said.

Straight line winds and tornados can both produce similar roaring sounds while approaching. But unlike a tornado, which leaves rubble strewn at random, typical straight line wind damage is much more orderly.

The straight line winds act like water poured to the ground from a bucket, Mr. Nash said. They descend onto the thunderstorm, then spread out, gusting for several minutes in the same direction.

A state of emergency was declared in both the village and town of Potsdam Tuesday, followed by a ban on nonessential travel. All were lifted Wednesday morning, though Potsdam police said areas with impassible streets and without power remain.

No violations of the travel ban were reported by Potsdam police.

The American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Norwood Norfolk Central School, located at 7852 Route 56, Norwood, to provide assistance for those without power or shelter.

While Mr. Nash was unable to estimate how long since a comparable storm has hit the area, its strength was clear.

“It’s been a long time since Potsdam has taken a big hit in such a strong thunderstorm,” he said.

On Wednesday, streets were littered with downed powerlines and fallen trees. Malerie Saunders was clearing debris outside her Bay Street home.

“It got dark so quickly,” she said. “With the trees coming down, we knew we had to get to somewhere safer. We ended up riding it out in the Slic parking lot.”

Trees were down all over Potsdam, three of them in the yard of Theodore C. Prahl, where his son, Colin, was surveying the damage.

“The storm took out three 100-year-old maple trees in about 15 minutes,” he said. “No windows were broken, nothing was hurt.”

Nonetheless, one tree rested atop the Prahl’s red-brick house. Mr. Prahl said until the tree was moved, it would be impossible to know the full extent of the damage.

On Bay Street, where several telephone poles were snapped in-half by the strong winds, power had not been restored Wednesday afternoon. The street, a primary entrance to SUNY Potsdam, was barricaded Wednesday afternoon.

Times staff writer Christopher Robbins contributed to this report.





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