WASHINGTON — I will never forget Sunday, April 28, 2002. It’s difficult to believe it’s been eighteen years.
On Friday we started mentioning the possibility of severe weather Sunday. On Saturday Tony, our weekend meteorologist at the time, echoed our concerns. By early Sunday afternoon we were all monitoring a strong cold front and tracking a line of showers and thunderstorms with our live Doppler 9000 radar.
Around 3 p.m. Howard was on his way with a camera crew to track a very strong thunderstorm moving out of Shenandoah County, which was about to be under a tornado warning. I was on my way to the office to tag team with Tony. The entire Metro Area was under a tornado watch by 3:45 p.m.
I arrived in the studio as Tony was announcing a tornado warning for Shenandoah County in Virginia a bit after 4:30 p.m. Our live Doppler 9000 tracked this cell east southeast with the tornado touching down and then lifting up from Shenandoah County all the way across the Bay.
The tornado was on the ground for a total of 68 miles, 24 of which were in Charles County. We interrupted Sixty Minutes and warned our viewers of the tornado about to hit La Plata and to take cover immediately.
The tornado was responsible for 5 fatalities and 100 million in damage. This tornado was an F4 packing winds between 207 and 260 mph.
The La Plata tornado, as we all have named it, was the second strongest tornado ever recorded in the East. (The Worcester, MA tornado in 1953 was more powerful.) Were we lucky to have three meteorologists covering the tornado? A bit lucky yes, but luck is the natural outcome of good preparation.