It's not often in New England that a tornado develops and is witnessed only by one person as it touches down. It's even more rare for that one person to grab a photograph at the moment they are the only witness...but that may be exactly what happened this past Sunday of Labor Day weekend along the Quabbin Reservoir in rural west-central Massachusetts.
We all know the storms that moved through interior New England on Sunday were nasty, and enshrouded in a combination of low cloud ceilings, heavy rain and fog, reducing visibility and meaning some of these storms surely had the potential to cause low-level spin ups that could be difficult to observe on radar, especially given that the Quabbin is so far from the Taunton, MA, radar site that covers the area.
Accompanying this picture was an email from the photographer, Joe Stafford's, Uncle, Brian. As it turns out, Joe was a bit shy to share the pic that he snapped at Gate 8 approximately 6:30pm, while working for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. The full description is impressive - Joe first noticed what appeared to be the tail of a funnel only about half way down from the cloud base, and could see the dam and the boat house on the other side. Once the tail touched down it whipped up enough water that you could no longer see much on the other side.
So was this a tornado that touched down on the Quabbin this past Sunday? It certainly appears so at first blush. Both the description and photograph are consistent. I've passed all of the information along to the National Weather Service in Taunton, MA, and their next step will be to compare against all available radar information for that timeframe, review the photograph for authenticity and interview the witness.
This is an excellent example of how helpful and important YOUR reports are to the meteorological community. Just one person can make a huge difference. Consider: if the National Weather Service indeed confirms this was a touchdown, it will be entered into the historical database of severe weather and tornadoes for New England and the nation. That's critically important for determining frequency of tornado touchdowns in our area, location of tornadoes, and even can assist in studies on tornado genesis. Hats off to Joe Stafford for his quick action and to his Uncle for knowing this was something worth passing along to me and our NECN Weather Team. You can bet I'll keep you posted on what I hear back as the National Weather Service takes the lead.
(Photograph Joe Stafford & NECN)