Storm knocks down trees across region, kills New London man

by admin on September 5, 2017

A New London man was killed Wednesday when a storm — with at least one gust that measured up to 95 mph — swept through the region about 9:35 a.m., uprooting trees and bringing down electrical wires across the region. 

The 95 mph gust was measured by instruments on a crane at Electric Boat in Groton, Joseph Sastre, director of Groton emergency management, confirmed late Wednesday night. Winds of up to about 50 mph were measured at the Groton-New London Airport, he said.

An uprooted tree fell onto a vehicle parked in a New London driveway, killing 65-year-old Arthur Falconi, police said.

Falconi, whose last known address was 17 Eldane St., is known in musical circles around New London. The car he was driving is associated with Harry’s Livery, a taxi and limo service based in the city. No one was available at Harry’s to comment Wednesday night.

New London acting police Chief Peter Reichard said calls about the incident at 185 Pequot Ave., which houses an apartment building, came in at 9:52 a.m. Officials initially were told the male driver of the vehicle had sustained neck injuries, but on scene they determined he had died, likely from the impact of the tree.

Rescue crews also took a passenger who was sitting in the backseat of the car to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital with unspecified injuries, police said. The passenger was alert and talking while being loaded into the ambulance, according to Reichard.

Shortly before 11 a.m., crews were working to remove the sizable tree from the roof of the crushed car, which was covered with a red tarp.

Pequot Avenue was blocked to traffic for almost two hours because of other downed tree limbs in the area, one of which fell on an SUV parked on the side of the street.

As late as 7:40 p.m. Wednesday, Eversource’s outage map showed more than 300 customers in Waterford still without power, as well as scattered outages in New London, Groton, Ledyard, North Stonington and Stonington. Groton Utilities also was reporting outages on several streets in Groton City.

In addition, power outages and trees fallen onto tracks caused train delays in the New London-Mystic area, Kimberly Woods of Amtrak Media Relations said by email late Wednesday. One train, the Amtrak Acela Express 2165 from Boston to Washington, D.C., was canceled. She said there was still some residual congestion into the night as the company worked to restore regular service levels.

‘A whole bunch of work’

Sastre said Groton emergency crews received and investigated multiple reports of downed trees. Fire crews also responded to a shed fire at a gas station that likely was caused by lightning.

“The storm created a whole bunch of work for a lot of people,” Sastre said.

On Hynes Street in Groton, Patrick Caccavelli said he watched the tree in his front yard slowly fall until it blocked the road. The power was shut down in the afternoon so the highway department could clear the road.

Beth Borysewicz, who lives on the corner of Allen and Smith streets in Groton City, said the storm flipped her shed on its side and whipped a branch into the back of her car, denting the frame and blowing out a window. While raking debris in her front yard on Wednesday morning, she said she was glad her kids weren’t home, and that she’s never seen anything like this in her 12 years living in the house.

Henry Mercado, who lives just over a mile away on Godfrey Street, could not say the same. He said the storm brought back memories of when he was almost struck by lightning in June 2012. A Foxwoods employee at the time, he was near a lightning strike at Lake of Isles Golf Club and Resort.

On Wednesday, a large branch stretched across the roof of his Godfrey Street home.

All power was out on Fishers Island for an hour or so due to the storm, said Chris Finan, president of the Fishers Island Utility Co.

The island receives power from Groton Utilities via an underwater cable. After the storm, Groton Utilities did an inspection and assured the island that the power circuit was secure, Finan said. Though the island has a diesel generator for emergencies, it wasn’t necessary.

“The storm skirted past us and pretty much hit the mainland,” he said.

Ledyard police also responded to downed trees and wires, though all roads were reopened by the afternoon.

In Waterford, several roads remained closed into the evening because of downed trees and wires. “This will affect bus traffic for those getting out of school, which the school is working on,” police wrote in a Facebook post about the closures.

As she was trying to get home, Susan Radway, director of the Riverfront Children’s Center in New London, was blocked by utility workers who had closed Great Neck Road. Detoured, she drove by Shore Road residents picking up debris in their yards and she parked near the state-owned Seaside property in Waterford instead. She said she could walk through the park to get to her home.

Radway, showing Danyell Fromerth of New London pictures of a large tree that had fallen and damaged the children center’s playground, said staff and children at the center had sheltered in place during the storm.

“It’ll be a while before we have that play space,” she said.

Fromerth was trying to drive to Harkness Memorial State Park to walk her dog when she also was detoured onto Shore Road.

The two women examined two large oak trees that had splintered and bent over, one landing on the roof of a building.

“It looks like a tornado ripped through New London and Waterford,” Fromerth said.

Harkness was closed Wednesday afternoon due to several downed trees and hanging branches. Dennis Schain, communications director for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said three crews will be at the park Thursday with a bucket truck and wood chipper to remove the branches. The park was expected to reopen Friday.

The science behind the storm

There’s no doubt the storm brought powerful winds that left destruction in its wake. But was it a microburst?

According to the National Weather Service, a microburst occurs when a large column of air and precipitation within a storm rushes down to the ground in all directions, often causing severe localized wind damage. The service’s website says microburst winds can reach speeds of up to 100 mph, as powerful as a small tornado.

National Weather Service meteorologist Gary Conte said his team performed a post-analysis of the fast-moving storm Wednesday afternoon and “did not find any radar signatures that support the occurrence of a microburst.” 

A spokesman for the NWS’s New York forecast office said reports have been consistent with the straight-line winds a typical storm produces and the agency didn’t have plans to send a team to survey the area.

There’s a process for assembling such a team, he explained, and it begins with the collection of photos and videos of damage in the affected areas. Photos can be emailed to okx.spotters@noaa.gov or tweeted at @NWSNewYorkNY. If officials determine the damage indicates something more than a regular thunderstorm occurred, they might reach out to emergency management and law enforcement personnel before deciding whether to go forward with the survey.

Meteorologist Gary Lessor, assistant director of The Weather Center at Western Connecticut State University, said the speed of the winds was higher than expected. He said on-the-hour measurements from the Groton-New London Airport show sustained 20 mph southwesterly winds and much stronger gusts. It’s possible more detailed reports released in the coming days will show an even higher peak wind speed.

The storm additionally produced vivid lightning and dumped 0.41 inches of rain in the hour or so it was active.

“I don’t think we anticipated that intensity — especially during the morning,” Lessor said. “If we had some daytime heating and then it happened during the afternoon, that would make more sense. But it seems lately that southeastern Connecticut is getting more morning activity.”

According to Lessor, conditions were ripe for the sudden outburst because a stationary front was draped across central Connecticut, with humid air in the east and drier air to the west. Because of where it was positioned, when the front triggered a line of storms, moisture-filled southeastern Connecticut got the brunt.

Day Staff Writers Lindsay Boyle, Erica Moser, Nate Lynch, Amanda Hutchinson and Martha Shanahan contributed to this report.

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