‘I’ve never seen anything like this’: Montco grapples with road closures and power outages after being walloped by rain, windstorm

Trees crushed the playset of Chris Burke and Christina Lennon in Flourtown. (Courtesy of Burke and Lennon)

Trees crushed the playset of Chris Burke and Christina Lennon in Flourtown. (Courtesy of Burke and Lennon)

Parts of Montgomery County are still without power and road access after a flurry of severe thunderstorms washed over the area on Wednesday afternoon and early evening.

“As of right now, we have about 7,300 customers that are still impacted from last night’s storm. But I will say that at the height of the storm … the most number of customers that we had out at one time was around 86,000 customers,” said Greg Smore, a PECO spokesperson. “We’ve brought in about 630 additional field employees and contractors that are going to be available to help support our restoration efforts.”

With straight-line winds of up to 90 miles per hour, the storm traveled along Pennsylvania Route 73 from Skippack all the way to the county border near Northeast Philadelphia — upending trees, damaging houses, ripping through power lines, and flooding streets.

While Route 73 is the only major road that remains closed, there are dozens of smaller roads that are closed across the southern tip of the county.

According to Todd Stieritz, the public affairs coordinator for the county department of public safety, East Norriton Township, Whitpain Township, Whitemarsh Township, Springfield Township, Cheltenham Township, and Abington Township were most impacted by the storm.

“We have a number of houses and commercial buildings that have sustained damage ranging from very minor damage, all the way to houses that are completely uninhabitable at this point based on trees falling into them, causing major structural damage, roof damage, that sort of thing,” Stieritz said.

From 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., Montgomery County residents dialed 911 113 times, according to an hour-by-hour breakdown of calls to the county Emergency Communications Center. That number skyrocketed to 570 times during the following hour.

Last night, the county activated it’s Watch Desk to monitor the impact of the storm and field requests for assistance from townships and boroughs.

The county deployed a number of generators to Abington Township to address the issue of traffic light outages affecting the area, according to Stieritz.

As of 9 p.m. Wednesday night, 48% of Whitpain Township was without power.

“PECO has told us that by tonight, they hope to resolve the majority of those issues. However, they do expect that many of them will last through the day today into future days, whether that be Friday or into the weekend,” Stieritz said.

Stieritz said that unlike many of the other storms that happened this summer, this didn’t appear to be a major flooding event, but that it was primarily a wind event with some flooding.

Various townships began conducting damage assessment last night to see what unmet needs their residents have and to see what issues need to be addressed.

For Eddie Graham, a Springfield Township commissioner, he didn’t need to look far to see just how bad the storm was.

“To be perfectly honest with you, I’m 65 years old — I’ve never seen anything like this,” Graham said.

The winds upended his patio and tossed his furniture across the yard.

“We had hailstones the size of, I would say, a half-dollar. They were coming down with such a velocity that it actually put holes in my front windows screen,” Graham said. “We have a litany of streets that … people are not able to go through because of downed trees and wire.”

There are 18 partially or completely closed streets in the township and 3,000 people are without power as of this morning.

As far as clearing the roads of trees and brush goes, the township will clear the roads and place tree limbs on the property from which they originated. It will not remove them. Springfield residents will have to make those arrangements separately with a private company.

Wires are a different story.

“Those residents that are exposed to downed wires, please stay away from them. When you see those downed wires, you should contact our police department and PECO,” Graham said.

Springfield Township isn’t alone in issuing warnings to its community members about what to expect today and in the coming days.

In a news release to residents, Cheltenham Township is urging residents to use “extreme caution” when navigating the area.

“Road crews will begin to clean up the downed trees and debris throughout the Township. First responders are still having trouble accessing some areas,” according to the statement.

For some residents in the various townships, downed trees fell away from the streets and towards their property.

David Lanahan, of Glenside, said it was a beautiful day until it wasn’t.

“I hear all this rain coming down. Then I heard a big bang at my window and my air conditioner almost popped out. I looked outside and the tree fell,” Lanahan said.

Luckily, the tree narrowly missed hitting the structure. Meanwhile in Flourtown, the story had a slightly different ending.

Downed trees and powerlines in the backyard of Chris Burke and Christina Lennon in Flourtown. (Courtesy of Burke and Lennon)

Chris Burke and his wife, Christina Lennon, were both working from home, while their 4-year old daughter was at a nearby swim club.

“And then yeah, just all of a sudden it got real dark outside. And it was like a huge gust of wind just blew past the house,” Burke said.

He thought a tornado warning alert would come to his phone, but it never came. However, the winds were picking up speed, so Burke and Lennon dashed to the basement, because they have a lot of trees around their property.

“We were just downstairs and it was just like, you could hear the hail like pelting the house for 15 minutes straight,” Burke said.

While the house was alright in the end, the trees fell on their playset. When the skies cleared, it took him an hour and a half just to get down the road to pick up his daughter.

Their power is expected to be out for a few days while PECO works on the issue, according to Burke.

The storm was not 100% doom and gloom, as children managed to find fun in the hailstones that piled up in front lawns. While Misty LeCompte, of Abington, was without power until 5 a.m. Thursday morning, she says her kids and the neighbors spent the end of the previous day collecting the hail.

Children bring in buckets of hail in Abington. (Courtesy of Misty LeCompte)

The owner of Ristorante Imperatore in Ambler is also receiving praise from Olga Chernov-Gitib, of Whitemarsh, for extending a helping hand to her mother Yanina Chernov while she picked up Olga’s kids from the camp bus stop. The owner ushered Chernov and the children under the awning and offered them food during the storm.

“A stressful situation brings out the best or the worst in people. And here clearly, you know, it brought out the best in the situation. And I’ll be honest, I can’t wait to go and buy gift cards from the restaurant, because clearly this is somebody who lives their values,” Chernov-Gitib said.

Hail (Courtesy of Yanina Chernov)

While this storm was a far cry from the 100-year flood that impacted Bucks County last week, it still represents a growing trend of more severe weather impacting the area.

From California wildfires causing a rise in area pollution all the way in the Delaware Valley to increased flooding in South Jersey, the climate crisis is an obvious culprit.

“You can’t really say, ‘this thing happened because of climate change,’ you know, ‘one individual fire, one individual storm,’ but it’s like, it was worse because of climate change. And I think that it’s important to draw those connections for people, so they’re more aware about what’s going on and what we need to do to try to address it,” said Dr. Elizabeth Watson, an associate professor of environmental science at Drexel University and wetland section leader at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Watson is currently in California working on a project to sequester carbon in the state. However, she has noticed the weather back home.

“If it’s warmer, then the atmosphere holds more water, and really like throughout the northeast, extreme flooding is really the main impact of climate change. You kind of have different impacts in different regions of the country and in the northeast, it’s definitely these like episodic storms,” Watson said.

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