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Adirondack Thunderstorms

Blowdown on Lake Placid

Well, we did need the rain. The thunderstorms that swept through late Tuesday afternoon boosted rivers and re-greened the thirsty woods. But they also threw down trees and power lines from Potsdam to Schroon Lake, scuttled some boats in their slips and overturned a few canoes.

The Peninsula Trails along Lake Placid were in the line of an intense but narrow band of wind that left a tangle of trunks. “A snake would have trouble getting through there,” comes to mind. That’s what a Forest Ranger in the Five Ponds Wilderness said to me after the epic derecho of July 15, 1995.

Tuesday’s blast was nowhere near the scale of the 1995 storm. That one killed five people, mostly campers in tents crushed by trees, as it scoured a hundred-mile swath of the Adirondacks. Trees were so snarled that hikers had to be airlifted out of the Five Ponds. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimated that 900,000 acres of forest were damaged. Downbursts of wind were measured in excess of 100 miles per hour.

By contrast, Lake Placid’s weather station clocked gusts of 43 miles per hour Tuesday. The station is a mile from the namesake lake; wind was believed to be stronger in the storm path from the McKenzie Range across southwest Lake Placid, over Brewster Peninsula and then across the southeast basin, where it again hit land and damaged the roof of the municipal water plant. The storm dumped 2.17 inches of rain, constituting most of Lake Placid’s July total of 2.81 inches.

Tuesday’s thunderstorm wreaked more costly damage in population centers such as Potsdam, where roofs were ripped on several buildings. On Adirondack Weather Site, Indian Lake meteorologist Darrin Harr posted a National Weather Service tally of trees, power lines, and road closures from Hopkinton to Westport and Schroon Lake.

The storm spun at least one funnel cloud Tuesday, but Adirondack thunderstorms can be wicked whether they generate twisters or not. “Severe thunderstorms producing damaging winds are just as destructive and potentially deadly as tornadoes,” National Weather Service meteorologist Ray O’Keefe advises. He estimates a hundred intense storms occur each year in eastern New York and western New England. “It is essential to heed severe thunderstorm watches and warnings with the vigilance of a tornado watch or warning.”

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