Jesse Ferrell

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The Great Pennsylvania Tornado of May 31, 1985

May 29, 2010; 12:19 PM ET

UPDATE: All PowerPoints and the video presentations from Henry and myself, along with videos of the Boy Scouts talking about their experience, are now available in my new blog entry "1985 Parker Dam Pennsylvania Tornado Videos." Also check out this excellent page from the NWS in Cleveland, Ohio, with a satellite loop and more radar images, photos and info from the outbreak.

On the evening of May 31, 1985, an F-4 tornado formed and plowed up and down the mountains of Western and Central Pennsylvania for about 70 miles, downing 90,000 trees in a path nearly two-thirds of a mile wide, causing complete destruction of the forest and any structures in-between.

To get a unique view of the storm, I scanned in a film slide that Henry Margusity took of the radar scope that fateful night, and Henry used ground clutter near State College and the tornado's track (shown in orange) to overlay the radar onto Google Earth. The hook echo is clearly visible, even on the black & white radar image.

Also, if you visit the area in Google Maps and hit a certain zoom level, you'll see something interesting... the official track (shown in blue below) is a straight line between two points, and is approximate. Look to the north of the track and you can actually see a trail of missing trees (this satellite image was probably taken between 1985 and 1995). This is the actual track of the tornado!

As you'll see from statistics I'll present tomorrow, this tornado and the surrounding outbreak rewrote Pennsylvania severe weather history. Tonight I am traveling to Parker Dam in Clearfield County Pennsylvania to assist with Henry Margusity's public talk for the 25th anniversary of this tragic storm. Hopefully I will be able to add a link to his PowerPoint tonight, and a video of the event next week. I'll also be presenting a piece on when and where severe weather and tornadoes occur in the state, look to see that on Monday.

This storm was only one of many that day. Some information for this blog entry was obtained from "Summary - The May 31, 1985 Tornado Outbreak (25th Anniversary)" by the National Weather Service here in State College, and the WikiPedia entry on that outbreak. Also check out other top Google pages which have more in-depth info.

By the way, a major tornado outbreak wasn't the only thing that happened on "Pennsylvania's Unlucky May 31st"... another outbreak occurred in 1998 and of course (who can forget) the famous Johnstown Flood for which I did an extensive blog entry in 2007 entitled "What Caused the Johnstown Floods?"

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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About This Blog

Jesse Ferrell
Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog covers extreme weather worldwide with a concentration on weather photos and Social Media.