Swift-moving storm spurs reports of funnel clouds

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The National Weather Service will determine today if storm damage in Armstrong and Butler counties was caused by a tornado Wednesday night.

Numerous funnel cloud sightings were reported but that doesn't necessarily mean there was a tornado, weather service meteorologist Brad Rehak said.

“We get funnel cloud reports every time there is a storm,” he said. “Often they’re not true tornado funnels, but just low clouds.”

Among swift winds and torrential downpours that blacked out electricity for about 9,500 people across the region Wednesday evening, Armstrong and Butler counties were briefly under a tornado warning. The weather service spotted rotations on their radar near Saxonburg, meteorologist Alicia Miller said, though no live tornado sightings were reported.

Neither Armstrong nor Butler county’s emergency dispatch service reported major incidents or damage.

Under a tornado warning, either radar or a person has spotted a funnel cloud. A watch — which was issued for Allegheny and 16 surrounding counties from about 3 to 8 p.m. — means weather conditions are favorable to produce a funnel cloud or tornado.

Storms in Allegheny, Fayette and Westmoreland counties merged Wednesday afternoon to create a squall line that produced wind gusts of up to 70 mph, which can down trees and cause structural damage, meteorologist Rihaan Gangat said. The storms rolled into the region around 4 and hit Pittsburgh close to 6 p.m.

Most damage, including downed trees and power lines, was caused by straight-line winds, Mr. Gangat said. Authorities from Allegheny County and the city of Pittsburgh noted only minor damage.

Mr. Rehak said the weather conditions resulted from low pressure pushing northeast into the Great Lakes and a warm front in the southwest region of Pennsylvania. A low-level jet stream later in the evening made conditions conducive to thunderstorms and tornadoes.

FirstEnergy reported about 7,500 power outages just before 10 p.m., mostly concentrated in Washington and Westmoreland counties. Duquesne Light spokesman Brian Knavish said about 600 customers were without electricity around 11 p.m., with service expected to be restored by 8 this morning.

As a torrential downpour gave way to light rain Wednesday evening, Debbie Jacknin had one foot in, one foot out of her arched, white tent in Point State Park, where she was selling stained-glass mosaics at the Three Rivers Arts Festival. She was ready to pack up and go.

But then someone stopped her. “You’re the mosaic artist,” a passer-by said, and stepped inside to browse through her work. That made Ms. Jacknin, 44, decide to wait out the storm. She was one of just a handful of local and visiting artists who maintained operations through Wednesday’s tornado watch.

“There was a sense of camaraderie,” she said, describing how others had pitched in to help outfit her tent for the rain. “It’s always something like this — a crazy storm or whatever — that brings people together.”

Even as it brought renewed vigor to artists, the storm slowed business.

“The rain stopped the show,” said Mark Matthews, 58, who had come to Pittsburgh from South Florida to sell metal sculptures, elaborate slabs of bronze and copper he had fastened into animal and floral arrangements.

But for music fans, the show went on at the park. Though the opening act was canceled, the headliner, Amos Lee, went on as scheduled. Fending off a persistent drizzle with raincoats and umbrellas, a small crowd gathered to hear Mr. Lee croon his folk-rock ballads. Stephanie Cryor, 25, said the wet, gray evening was the perfect atmosphere for his music.

Sharon Wojciechowski, 63, had come Downtown from Carnegie to accompany her husband to the concert. She said the rain didn't bother her.

“We’re used to it —- this is Pittsburgh,” she said.



Max Radwin contributed. Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1878 or Twitter: @LexiBelc. Isaac Stanley-Becker: istanley-becker@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3775. First Published June 11, 2014 3:21 PM

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