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Tornado touches down in Westfield

November 23, 2011
WESTFIELD — For the first time in at least 60 years, Westfield and Fredonia experienced tornadoes in November.

“It’s just shocking to everyone to see that kind of devastation that happens in a moment,” Town of Westfield Supervisor Martha Bills said.

“It’s surprising,” Village of Westfield Mayor David Carr said.

“I hope that we never have to experience anything like that again because it was quite a mess,” Westfield Fire Chief Rand Edwards said. “It was a quick hit and it was gone.”

Two separate tornadoes formed during the storm on Monday night, Nov. 14. The first touched down in Fredonia at 4:54 p.m. and traveled 4 to 5 miles with a damage width of 125 yards and estimated wind speeds between 100 and 110 mph. The second touched down in Westfield around 5:10 p.m. and traveled 3 to 4 miles with a damage width of 120 yards and estimated wind speeds of 100 to 110 mph.

“They were two separate storms, though they were similar in characteristics,” Judy Levan, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at National Weather Service Office in Buffalo said during a press conference confirming the tornadoes on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at the Westfield Fire Hall. “Certainly a very significant storm, especially for this time of year.”

In both cases, the tornado was not on the ground the entire length it traveled, and each tornado was classified as an EF 2 on the Enhanced Fujita damage scale.

“They were both on the ground for a very short time, just about 10 minutes,” Levan said. “It didn’t last long. All the people said that the damage itself lasted for less than a minute. It happens very quickly.”

“It was so unexpected,” Bills said.

Tornado warnings were communicated to residents at around 4:47 p.m. in Fredonia and 4:41 p.m. in Westfield. Levan said forecasters watched the tornadoes come across the lake and the one that hit Fredonia most likely start as waterspouts before moving to shore. One witness reported seeing a swirling mist coming off the lake, but since the night was so dark, no one reported actually seeing a funnel cloud. However, witnesses did report hearing large noises such as a roar and then sounds of trees cracking, snapping and falling down.

“It was quite a hectic time,” Edwards said, noting that the first call to the fire department came in around 5 p.m., and work continued until around 10 p.m.

The fire departments of Sherman and Ripley were called in to help as there were four different incidents which occurred all at once. Most of Westfield’s equipment and 30 volunteers were all hard at work clearing debris out of the road, getting a car out from under and fallen tree and more, even though the weather after the tornado was still a hindrance.

Damage to houses, barns, outbuildings and trees occurred in Fredonia, Pomfret and Westfield, but luckily no physical injuries were reported. A couple living in the Westfield house most severely damaged by the tornado was transported by Westfield Fire Department to the Westfield Memorial Hospital, but only as a precaution. The house has been deemed uninhabitable.

“We were very fortunate that no one was hurt,” Bills said. “We came very close.”

According to Levan, the damaged house on Martin Wright Road saw one of its walls blown off because a front window broke, allowing the wind to enter the house.

“Once you break the integrity of the structure, once you get the wind into the building, it has to get out of the building somehow,” Levan said.

Usually it is the roof which flies off in such an instance, but Levan said the wall must have been a weaker point.

Based on the National Weather Service’s findings, the Westfield tornado initially touched down on Munson Street before moving west across County Touring Route 21. It then crossed South Gale Street and moved to Martin Wright Road before it lifted.

In Fredonia, the tornado formed over Lake Erie and landed on Beach Place. It traveled to Van Buren Drive, across Farel Road and on to University Park and Risley Street before lifting off.

“I feel really badly for everyone involved,” Bills said. “I think that it was really a shocking weather occurrence that we never expected.”

Bills mourned the loss of historic barns, structures and trees, but was thankful no one was injured, as was Carr.

“We’re very, very fortunate that no one was hurt,” Carr said. “We can rebuild barns, we can rebuild houses, trees will grow again, but you can’t replace people.”

Bills complimented all the emergency services that helped on the evening of the storm and how well they all worked together. The Town of Westfield Highway Department, Westfield Fire Department, Emergency services, neighboring communities and county services all came together and got things cleaned up very efficiently and very fast, she said.

“We really appreciate everyone coming out on that stormy night to help everyone that was in trouble,” Bills said. “Everyone working together was quite impressive.

“Our emergency services were well prepared to step and help people at a moment’s notice,” she said. “I was very pleased at how our entire community came together to help and everyone worked so well together to get things cleaned up and help everybody who had damage on their property.”

The National Weather Service determines if a weather event is a tornado and what its path is by looking at the damage pattern, seeing how buildings are damaged or destroyed, determining if there is a convergent or divergent pattern to the winds and asking people what they experienced.

“It’s kind of a reverse process,” Levan said.

In Westfield, the convergence of trees helped signal a tornado had struck because they were all pulled in one direction. In Fredonia, the debris from a destroyed barn was strew in all directions, not pushed in one direction which would occur from a wall of wind. The weather service’s summary and photos of damage can be found at and searching for “tornadoes in Chautauqua County.”

Director of Emergency Service for Chautauqua County Julius Leone estimated it would be days to weeks worth of clean up to get the lives of those affected back to normal. Whether or not FEMA help will be available is based on dollar loss within the community and Leone said it was too early to tell if that would be the case, though he is in communication with the State Emergency Management Office.

The damage in Cattaraugus County from Monday’s storm was deemed to be from straight line wind damage, not from a tornado.

“You don’t realize how much damage the wind can do,” Edwards said. “It’s baffling.”

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Article Photos

Photo by Jenna Loughlin
A house on Martin Wright Road in the Town of Westfield had one of its walls blow off Monday, Nov. 14 during a storm which saw tornadoes touch down in both Westfield and Fredonia. Its occupants were taken to Westfield Memorial Hospital as a precaution.



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