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Environment & Science

Storm that socked the Lehigh Valley snapped trees, packed 60-70 mph winds

Storm damage
Stephanie Sigafoos
Trees were snapped on Pond Road in South Whitehall Township following a severe thunderstorm on Thursday.

SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. — A turbulent morning of storms brought significant damage to parts of the Lehigh Valley on Thursday, with estimated wind speeds of 60 to 70 mph, meteorologists confirmed.

The storms swept through the region around 8:30 a.m., sparking heavy downpours, snapping three limbs and quickly flooding roads.

In downtown Allentown, water shot through the ground floor of a Center City parking garage and caused power outages that extended through the West End.

More than 28,000 electricity customers were without power at 9 a.m. in Lehigh and Northampton counties, according to PPL and Met-Ed.

Some of the worst damage occurred in South Whitehall Township on Pond Road, in an industrial park off Cedar Crest Boulevard, where damage was "consistent with a localized downburst,” said EPAWA meteorologist Bobby Martrich.

Storm damage
Stephanie Sigafoos
This tree on Pond Road in South Whitehall Township was uprooted and many others damaged when a severe thunderstorm hit the area Thursday.

Downbursts are powerful winds that descend from a thunderstorm and spread out quickly once they hit the ground. They can easily cause damage similar to that of an EF0 (65-85 mph winds) or even EF1 (86-110 mph winds) tornado, and are sometimes mistaken for tornadoes.

Martrich said on X that many people were speculating a tornado had occurred, but there was no evidence of that on radar.

“Based on estimated damage it was 60 to 70 mph winds. That’s just my assessment similar to what the National Weather Service would do when they conduct surveys,” he told LehighValleyNews.com, describing damage he saw in person as “unidirectional” and more consistent with a downburst or straight-line wind damage.

“The reporting stations around here are sparse and mostly personal weather stations that don’t accurately measure wind. Not many people have the sophisticated equipment to accurately measure,” he said.

"Based on estimated damage it was 60 to 70 mph winds. That’s just my assessment similar to what the National Weather Service would do when they conduct surveys."
EPAWA meteorologist Bobby Martrich

Damage from Lehigh County to Phillipsburg

Mike Gorse, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service forecast office in Mount Holly, New Jersey, said Martrich was correct in noting wind speeds were likely above 60 mph or greater in South Whitehall, with trees snapped unidirectionally in a roughly 30 to 40-yard stretch.

Gorse said the line of storms caused damage “in a relatively narrow path that went roughly through central Lehigh County all the way over to the Phillipsburg area and even a little bit further east of there.”

In Bethlehem Township, Freemansburg Avenue was closed near Farmersville Road, where a large pine tree fell. Farmersville Road was shut down not far from the township community center as utility crews worked to repair power lines.

PPL reported just over 22,000 without power in Lehigh and Northampton counties after the storm punched through. Met-Ed reported more than 5,700 in the dark, mainly in the northern reaches of Northampton County, including the Bangor and Bath areas, and Bushkill Township.

The Storm Prediction Center had the Lehigh Valley at a marginal risk of severe weather Thursday before the storms pushed through.