The cold front that spawned deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma moved across Indiana County Wednesday evening with a short but fierce thunderstorm that left thousands without power and trees and utility lines down throughout the area.
Joe Palko, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, said winds between 35 and 50 miles per hour were reported in the region as the thunderstorm moved through around 5:15 p.m.
Residents reported numerous power outages and drenching rains on the Gazette’s Facebook page. One user, Bobbie Ray, said “major winds” on Penn View Road picked up a tied-down trampoline and threw it into a neighbor’s car, smashing a window.
And downed power lines Wednesday evening caused a shrub fire and a transformer fire on School Street in Indiana Borough.
The Indiana Fire Association responded to the transformer fire around 8:30 p.m., and downed power lines at School and Seventh streets caused flowers and shrubs near a house to catch fire.
Then at 8:58 p.m. firefighters responded to rescue a person from an elevator that was stuck between floors in a building at the corner of Philadelphia and Seventh Street, according to the fire fighter who responded to the scene.
Jonathan Compardo said the woman was trapped for about 15 minutes.
Thousands lost electricity Wednesday evening, and a couple hundred remained without power this morning.
About 5,000 REA Energy customers were without power in Indiana and Cambria counties Wednesday, mostly in the area of the ShadoWood and Washington substations. All but two customers had their power restored by this morning, according to business development manager Chad Carrick. Carrick said the power supplier sustained storm damage. It took about an hour and a half to restore power to the Washington substation, and the ShadoWood substation had power restored early this morning, he said.
Penelec had 8,380 customers in the dark in the Indiana area last night. There are 289 people still without power today, manager Dennis Platt said this morning, mostly in the Blairsville area. Crews are working now and power should be restored today, he said.
While the rain was intense, the downpour lasted only a few minutes; it dropped between one-third and one-half an inch of rain, Palko said. Small hail was reported in the Pittsburgh area, Palko said, and the Indiana Fire Association reported hail as well on its Facebook page.
Fire departments across the area were kept busy between about 5 and 8 p.m., responding to trees and power lines down on roadways.
The Commodore fire department was finishing up at a trailer fire in Green Township when it was called out for a tree across Route 240 at 5:33 p.m., Assistant Chief John Weaver said.
Trees or utility lines also fell across Route 403 South and Mack Drive in Buffington Township, Grange Hall Road in East Wheatfield Township, Mulligan Hill Road in West Wheatfield Township and Clairvaux Drive in White Township. And the Blairsville and Black Lick fire departments were dispatched into Derry Township, Westmoreland County.
Palko said the worst of the storms has passed. He said the first band of thunderstorms were the most severe, but that showers and storms continued through the evening and some showers may continue today.
The weekend is expected to be dry, but cooler than normal, with the possibility of frost for Saturday, Sunday and Monday mornings.
“That’s unusual for late May, but we’ve had unusual weather this year,” he said.
He recommended gardeners watch the temperatures and cover tomatoes or flowers at night.
This story edited at noon May 23 to correct the spelling of Jonathan Compardo's name.