By 8:30 p.m.Wednesday night, July 13, anyone in Kingston with a clear view of the Catskills knew they were in for it. The massive storm followed the usual pattern, building strength and wreaking havoc in relative obscurity behind this local province of the Appalachian mountains before bursting over the lowlands between it and the Hudson River.
And when it did, the heavens above were outraged, tossing thunderbolts which split the sky, revealing in the bright flashes the rotating thunderstorm in the darkness behind the storm front massed above the mountains.
Anyone caught out on the road in their car, listening to AM radio, heard the blasts of crunchy static that corresponded to each consecutive lightning strike and felt the car-shoving wind picking up. The storm was in a hurry.
“I lost power at 8:57 exactly,” said Robert Greenwood, resident of the Rondout. “I know because I had just got off the phone with my partner, Sarah. She works in Hudson. I called her because the clouds had opened up and hail was falling. Now when you see hail in the summertime, that means tornado, if the sky is green or orange, you get cover. The way the wind was whipping at the trees, and with the hail, I guess I couldn’t really believe it…So I stayed outside to watch it all. Called Sarah so she could hear the hail. Then the power went out.”
Unbeknownst to Greenwood, just eight minutes earlier a tornado 300 yards wide, with top windspeeds of 90 miles per hour, had set down to wreak havoc near Hurley avenue, between Davis Street and Hillside Drive next to the O & W rail trail, near the borders of the towns of Ulster and Hurley.
Once touched down the tornado meandered south-east for a half mile, uprooting and snapping trees, wrecking a car canopy and removing roof shingles as it passed through a subdivision.
According to the National Weather Service in Albany, aerial photos also show that the tornado had an accomplice, a second vortex which moved along the northeast edge of the same subdivision likewise downing trees in wide swaths of destruction.
That first tornado was estimated to have winds of up to 90 mph and the second vortex was lumped in with the first. Large hail fell during the storm, stripping the leaves off of trees. The whole affair was over in three minutes.
While the mayhem caused was impressive and memorable, the Enhanced Fujita Scale, with a rating of 0 to 5, considers a tornado at those speeds to be mediocre, referring to them as ‘weak’ and no injuries or fatalities were reported. A truly impressive tornado, on the other hand, is described as ‘violent’ and has wind speeds that exceed 200 mph which can take apart every brick wall in a subdivision.
Twelve minutes before that, a macroburst had descended in Marbletown. That is, a strong downdraft, with no wind rotation involved that hits the ground and redirects horizontally. With windspeeds also approaching 90 mph, it’s likely this macroburst was the precursor to the delinquent vortexes which would soon arrive at the subdivision.
The macroburst lasted ten minutes and caused at least two trees to fall on cars along Lapla Road before moving southeast.
Greenwood related his drive an hour later to the Rhinecliff Amtrak Station across the river to pick up Sarah. He drove slowly with highbeams on and he described the tree limbs fallen into the street and the flashing lights of police vehicles patrolling Broadway, the workers still inside the gas stations and darkened storefronts. All the traffic lights were out.
Across the bridge over in Rhinecliff near the train station, a Central Hudson truck had pulled up to deal with a power transmission line, and police had blocked off the road with slow burning flares of strontium nitrate, the same metal fuel which turns fireworks red.
“I always park by the river,” said Greenwood. “Stairs go up and over the tracks and down again to the platform. I stood out there watching the tail end of the storm. Watching the lightning, which was so far away or so high up you couldn’t hear it. Looking across the river to Kingston, Ponckhockie was pitch black.”
The streetlamps inert, all the electricity gone out of them, the neighborhood in the hills above the Rondout Creek lay covered in darkness. By midnight, a gentle rain was all that remained to fall.
By 7:38 the next morning Kingston Mayor Steve Noble had declared a state of emergency which restricted all unnecessary travel throughout the city with an emphasis placed on uptown.
Power lines were down, spitting electricity into the street…
“Last night, our Fire Department, Police Department and DPW responded to hundreds of calls for service and I want to thank all of our staff for working throughout the night,” said Mayor Noble the next morning. “Much of the clean-up is dependent on Central Hudson clearing power lines and so clean-up from this storm will take some time.”
On Friday morning, Central Hudson reported that it had restored power to more than 92 percent of customers who were impacted by the storm and expect to have the remaining customers restored by Friday afternoon.