Beauty and the Beast

May 01, 2002


Referred by: National Weather Service Forecast Office Baltimore/Washington
Summary authors & editors: Jim Foster

This unusual picture, courtesy of Ian Heatwole, was taken in the afternoon on April 28, 2002, near New Market, Virginia. It shows perhaps the ultimate meteorological contrast, a portion of a rainbow and a twister. The truck appears to be heading for the sheltering arc of the rainbow. This storm was part of the same cell that later evolved into a supercell thunderstorm as it approached the Potomac River south of Washington. When the system moved into southern Maryland, it generated a powerful F5 tornado (winds in excess of 260 miles per hour - 116 meters per second).

The towns of La Plata and Prince Frederick, Maryland, both county seats, were hit hard, and parts of La Plata were leveled. This was the strongest tornado ever in MD. Ironically, Maryland's worst tornado disaster also occurred near La Plata 76 years ago when a schoolhouse was demolished and more than a dozen children were killed. The storm cell associated with last Sunday's deadly tornado persisted all the way from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. Over southern Maryland, the tornado was up to 1/4 mile wide (0.4 km) and was on the ground for at least 24 miles (38 km). Three people were killed by this terrible twister, more than 90 were injured and damage estimates may be near $100 million. In addition to the tornado, baseball size hail was observed in the vicinity of La Plata.