Tornado Hits I-95

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By Patrick Cronin & Susan Morse

Hampton Union, Tuesday, May 23, 2006

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Fire Chief Hank Lipe provided this photo taken Sunday night at North Beach in Hampton. [Courtesy photo]

HAMPTON FALLS -- A funnel cloud that flipped a truck on Interstate 95 Sunday and sent a kayak into the trees, has been deemed a tornado by the National Weather Service.

The "very weak tornado" had wind speeds of up to 80 mph, according to John Jensenius of the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine.

Witnesses in Hampton Falls described seeing the black funnel traveling down the Taylor River about 6:50 p.m.

Hampton Falls Fire Lt. Brian Kent was on Route 1 and had stopped to talk to a police officer.

"I knew severe weather was coming through," said Kent. "The clouds looked ominous. I was joking with him. 'See those low lying clouds, we used to see those in Oklahoma.’ As I came over the (Route) 88 bridge, I noticed a funnel forming and the inflow of clouds going into it. The clouds started pulling into the tornado. What then occurred, I saw the funnel drop down to the ground."

The Fire Department has received numerous reports of several funnel clouds, said Kent.

"From what people saw, it was jumping across the river, touch and go," said firefighter Alexis Benoit, who was called to the accident scene on I-95.

John Jensenius, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, invetigates the area of woods near Interstate 95 in Hampton Falls where a small tornado touched down Sunday. A vehicle was flipped over by the storm and a kayak and pickup truck were thrown into the air, landing in the woods.
[Photo by Deb Cram]

Benoit went into the driveway and saw a funnel cloud forming behind her house.

"I live on a hill, I saw it right in the fields," she said. "I saw the whole thing turning right to the ground."

The funnel looked to be 300 feet across, she said.

"Just driving down Drinkwater (Road), I was watching clouds, it was dark, the skies were that weird color," Benoit said. "(I was thinking) this isn’t right, this isn’t right. I’m watching the clouds as they’re funneling."

She and firefighters went to the accident scene on I-95 northbound, about two miles south of the Hampton tolls.

"We got there; we had a good idea what happened," Benoit said. "It was the creepiest feeling alive."

At the scene, the truck was on its roof and gas was leaking out of it," Benoit said.

Two men inside, Brian Grinnell, 48, of Rockport, Maine, and Gregory Grinnell, 50, of Bridgton, Maine, were taken to Exeter Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Ron Goodspeed, director of community relations at Exeter Hospital, said the men were treated and released by 9:30 p.m.

A kayak and cap to the truck were found 150 feet from the truck in the woods, said Kent. The kayak was in a tree, as was a child’s stuffed animal horse. A child’s booster seat was nearby on the ground.

The kayak was believed to have been on or in the truck, said Kent.

On Monday morning, Jensenius investigated the scene next to the Taylor River.

Jensenius called the funnel, "a very weak tornado, based on what I saw here, damage, the movement of debris."

The storm headed southwest to northeast, Jensenius said.

Glass, oranges, water bottles, a yogurt container, spoon and wrappers were strewn about the site where the truck flipped. It was tossed 50 feet from where it was parked in the I-95 northbound breakdown lane, according to state police.

Brian and Gregory Grinnell were driving north on I-95 about 7 p.m. when they saw what appeared to be a funnel cloud coming toward them, said State Police Sgt. Gary Wood.

The men pulled their 1997 Ford F-150 into the breakdown lane to get a better view of the cloud.

They told police that when the cloud moved closer, they got back in their vehicle, but a strong gust overturned it and threw it about 50 feet.

Ron Loszewski was on Interstate 95 southbound Sunday night.

"I drove through it," said Loszewski. "I was coming back from Maine when I saw a wall of black clouds building and spinning around."

Loszewski said he watched as the funnel began to dip down.

"All of a sudden the car was slammed by a massive gust of wind that pushed us across two lanes on 95. We saw other cars swerving in the back after we passed it."

Many people reported seeing strange-looking clouds about 6:30 p.m.

"It was weird seeing the black and gray fingers hanging down," said Seabrook Fire Chief Jeff Brown, who was driving south on Route 108 in Stratham. "This thing was hanging low to ground and it was windy."

A deer, which Brown believes was spooked by the wind, ran into the road and was hit by a truck two vehicles ahead of his near the Scamman farm, said Brown.

A funnel cloud is the precursor to a tornado before it touches ground.

Jensenius said he didn’t know when the last tornado was reported in the Seacoast.

David Brown, New Hampshire state climatologist and assistant professor of geography at the University of New Hampshire, said a funnel cloud can form whenever there is a strong thunderstorm cell.

"Although funnel clouds and tornadoes are rare in this area, it is not unprecedented," David Brown said. "I believe there was a tornado in Hampton 100 years ago that actually killed a couple of people. It is just one of those rare events."

Two years ago in August, strong winds cut a swath of felled pine trees through the Wakeda Campground on Route 88 in Hampton Falls. Numerous homes and campers were damaged, and injuries were reported from what was called a "bow echo."

"It all seems to go right down the same corridor," said Hampton Falls Police Chief Robbie Dirsa. "You look at a map; it’s weird the path it takes."

Dirsa said the only other damage reported in town is trees down along Brown Road.

Jensenius said there’s little reason to suspect a correlation between the Wakeda storm and the tornado.

"It’s just hit or miss," he said. "Hampton Falls has had two hits recently."


"We’ve had one extreme to another," said Benoit. "Last week floods; exactly a week later, a tornado. Hurricane people are saying hurricanes up here this year. I guess that’s next."

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