Middlebury hit by rare tornado

ON TUESDAY A couple dozen neighbors came to the site of the tornado off Painter Road and helped homeowners clean up their property and recover what could be salvaged. Independent photo/Megan James

VELCO workers joined Green Mountain Power technicians and Middlebury firefighters to clear downed trees and powerlines from Painter Road in Middlebury Friday afternoon after high winds toppled several trees, damaged several structures and sent one youth to the hospital. Independent photos/John S. McCright

NANCY MALCOLM, LEFT, joined other volunteers on Tuesday afternoon to help clean up tornado wreckage on Painter Road in Middlebury. The storm overturned the car seen behind her. Independent photo/Megan James

A TORNADO PACKING 110-mph winds touched down in Middlebury Friday afternoon, ripping the studs from a Painter Road home and depositing them in a nearby field. Independent photo/Megan James

VOLUNTEER TED SCHEU collects bits of debris left by the tornado, which also ripped up trees. Independent photos/Megan James

TWISTER, THE APTLY named horse at Werner Tree Farm in Middlebury, was lucky to survive the tornado. Cheryl Werner said he took shelter inside the barn just in time: “If he hadn’t, he would have been killed by shrapnel.” Independent photo/Megan James

MIDDLEBURY — After a tornado tore across a mile of the Painter Road neighborhood in Middlebury this past Friday afternoon, one youngster went to the hospital with minor injuries and another young woman was shaken up after the twister roughed her up a bit, but no serious injuries were reported.

The same can’t be said for the damage to a few structures and the landscape. But overall, the incident seemed to be about a some measure of physical damage and another measure of fear.

“What I’m thankful for is that I have a roof over my head,” said Cheryl Werner, whose home was in the path of the tornado. “And that it didn’t kill my daughter.”

Her daughter, Amanda, was picked up by the wind and tumbled down the long driveway at Werner’s Christmas Tree Farm. She ended up going to Porter Hospital, where she received nine staples and stitches in her head.

Also injured was a teenage boy two houses near the Werners, who was taken to Porter for treatment of minor injuries after the tornado ripped the roof from the garage of his house and overturned the family car. Nearby several large trees were ripped from the ground and crashed into utility lines that resulted in a power outage that lasted into the evening.

Werner said the tornado only blew for about 30 seconds, but that it felt like an eternity.

Middlebury police and firefighters, along with the Middlebury Regional EMS ambulance received a 911 call at about 1:54 p.m. on March 26. The National Weather Service (NWS) classified the tornado as “EF-1,” and reported that winds reached 110 miles per hour in the twister.

“It’s weak on the scale of tornadoes. Still, very, very strong winds,” NWS meterologist Conor Lahiff told WCAX-TV.

NWS reported that the tornado formed above Juniper Lane, at the end of Painter Hills Road in Middlebury and traveled about a mile northeast crossing Painter Road and on into some fields and woodland behind Werners.

Lahiff told WCAX that according to the weather service’s records dating back to the 1950s, tornadoes are very rare in Vermont. In fact, he said he believes only one other tornado has touched down in the Green Mountain State in the month of March since record-keeping started.

As news of the downed trees and damage came in, police closed Painter Road between Halpin Road and Munger Street while Green Mountain Power and Middlebury Department of Public Works crews removed fallen trees and power lines.

Cheryl Werner said there was a spontaneous gathering of volunteers on Saturday who came to help clean up the Werner property and salvage some of the lost hay so her animals had something to eat.

A couple dozen people showed up again on Tuesday to continue the cleanup. They picked up debris and put things back in order as much as they could.

Werner reported on Tuesday that all of her animals were fine. Amanda saw the storm coming and put the chickens in the barn, where the lambs already were. A horse named “Twister” — true story — took safety precautions on his own.

“The horse was smart enough to be in his stall,” Werner said. “If he hadn’t been, he would have been killed by the shrapnel.”

The tornado ripped off two-thirds of the roof of the Werners’ horse barn, plus all the hay and many other things they were storing up there. They found the roof afterwards more than a mile away near Munger Street. They also lost the roof/top layer of their Christmas tree shop.

Behind the Werner property, in a gully lined with tall evergreens, you can see the path of the twister’s destruction: The tops of all the trees were just shorn right off and taken away.

The neighbor whose garage was ripped off on Tuesday said she was doing fine and was thankful for the community help she’d received.

Another neighbor said the tornado passed 50 yards from her house, but thankfully her family, their animals and their house was all left intact.

“We are grateful, shaken, and saddened for our neighbors on either side who suffered losses,” she said.

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