Tornado watch alerts campus

Edward McFadden – Staff Writer

CLARION, Pa- Severe weather conditions were observed in Clarion Monday, May 1, including winds at high speeds and torrential rain. The storm followed after a tornado watch was issued for the region, and a flood warning from the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh also went into effect. The elements caused assorted property damage in the area, as well as some flooding in the Gemmell Student Complex.

Several storm systems are currently moving through Northwest Pennsylvania, or are headed toward it, bringing cold rains and strong winds, data from weather forecasts show.

Around 3 p.m. Monday, inclement weather escalated from an overcast day, and students were told to seek shelter immediately. Community Assistants were instructed to move residents to the lower levels of buildings and away from large windows.

Alerts from the National Weather Service were issued around this time, indicating that there were tornado warnings in the area until at least 3:15.  The alert also advised people to take shelter immediately.

The storm was short-lived. Within half an hour of commencement, the wind and rain gave way to overcast, but calm skies.

It was not until 4:03 that an “eagle alert,” Clarion’s system of emergency alerts, notified the student body via text that the tornado warnings for Clarion and Venango counties had expired.

When asked about the delay in the issuance of the eagle alert, David Love, Clarion’s director of Marketing and subsequently Emergency Information, reported that the storm never reached a severity that warranted a university-wide alert.

“The first tornado warning notice we received was at 3:10, but it was only until 3:15. It began downgrading as soon as we were preparing to send the alert,” said Love in an interview. “Then, another alert came in at 3:45, but again the storm had degraded. We never send an alert out for tornado watch or thunderstorms. Only when there is a warning.”

Love then reported getting the notification that the tornado watches had expired, and this was released to students via text, and minutes later via email at 4:09 p.m.

Director Love also reported that he receives alert-worthy news from Chief of Police Jason Hendershot. On this particular occasion, Hendershot never prompted Love to alert the student body until the tornado watch had passed.

Explore Clarion reported that most of the damage across Clarion County resulted from falling trees and utility poles.

Specific to Clarion University’s campus, the lower level of Gemmell experienced flooding, according to reports from Dr. Jamie Phillips and Dr. Ellen Foster.  According to Foster, Sean Hoke acted as first respondent by arriving the scene of the flood with a Wet Vac.

Contributed Photo by Justin Dudley and Charlane Agnew/ The Clarion Call
Monday’s storm leaves a tree uprooted in Clarion.

According to Chad Thomas, director of auxilary operations, “the water was in the food court near the restrooms.  There is a roof drain that carries water from the roof down through a pipe in the wall and it connects to the drainage system.”  The cleanout plug was found to be loose when water was forced out of the plug and flooded Gemmell.  “During a regular rain, the amount of water would never be enough to cause the bypass we saw Monday,” Thomas said.  The plug has since been tightened and there were no damages to Gemmell.

After the storm on Monday, the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh conducted a preliminary report on the storm. Findings show that two tornadoes actually did touch down in Clarion County: one in Cooksburg, 20 minutes Northeast of the university, and another near state route 36 in the same vicinity.

While the tornadoes were not found to have wind speeds exceeding 85 miles per hour, they managed to cause some significant damage. There were shingles torn off buildings, collapsed trees and branches were thrown onto vehicles and buildings.

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