BANGOR, Maine — Several weak tornadoes touched down in northern and western Maine on Wednesday afternoon as meteorologists with the National Weather Service continued to monitor turbulent weather sweeping over the majority of the state.
The National Weather Service confirmed Thursday afternoon that a tornado touched down in the small Somerset County town of Embden during severe thunderstorms Wednesday.
Meteorologist Mike Kistner says tree damage confirms that a twister touched down. He says the tornado’s path was about eight miles long, 200 yards wide and had estimated winds of 90 to 100 mph.
The weather service is also investigating reports of two other possible tornadoes in Maine, but it doesn’t have any evidence of tornadoes in New Hampshire.
Wednesday’s storm also brought damaging winds and hail, including reports of baseball-sized hail around Kingfield, Maine, where skylights and awnings were smashed.
Mal Walker, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service’s Caribou forecast center, said a weak tornado touched down and ran across remote and unpopulated areas in extreme northern Piscataquis and Penobscot counties late Wednesday afternoon.
“We don’t have any ground truth on that yet,” said Walker. “It’s just what we’ve seen on the radar.”
Walker said radar indicated that there was a weak tornado in central Somerset County as well as several in Oxford County near the town of Bethel, though he didn’t have details about those events because they are out of his area of responsibility.
Meteorologist Eric Schwibs, who works in the National Weather Service’s Gray forecasting center, said weather computers showed signs of tornadoes in several areas but they couldn’t be confirmed until the areas are inspected in person Thursday. Schwibs said the hardest-hit areas were central Somerset County and western Oxford County.
A dispatcher for the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department said there were numerous reports of trees and utility wires down in the Embden and New Portland areas, but as of 8 p.m. there had been no reported injuries.
Walker said the tornadoes he saw on the radar Wednesday afternoon were all rated F-0, which is the weakest tornado.
Along with the tornadoes were numerous heavy thunderstorms across the state.
Massachusetts officials say four people are dead after at least two tornadoes swept through western and central parts of the state.
Scott MacLeod, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, confirmed the deaths Wednesday night but said there were no details about the circumstances.
He said two people died in Westfield, one in West Springfield and one in the town of Brimfield.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency and called up 1,000 National Guard troops.
Patrick took the action after heavy damage was reported Wednesday in several communities, including many in western Massachusetts.
Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, about 90 miles west of Boston, was treating numerous injured people, some with serious force trauma injuries, spokeswoman Jane Albert said.
Television news footage showed buildings with their top floors pulverized or sheared off. Video aired by WWLP-TV showed a debris-filled funnel roaring into downtown from the west, crossing the Connecticut River and tossing water and debris.
The storm hit as workers were beginning to leave for the evening commute home. A tractor-trailer overturned during the storm on the Memorial Bridge leading to West Springfield.
The storm hit Springfield after a tornado watch was issued for much of the East Coast, including Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
Massachusetts State Police received numerous reports of tornado sightings Wednesday, including in Springfield, Monson and Wilbraham. Troopers were assisting with the tornado response.
National Grid reported on its website more than 22,000 power outages, the vast majority in Hamden County, where Springfield is located.
Western Massachusetts Electric also reported more than 12,000 outages in western Massachusetts.
In Maine, a strong thunderstorm near the Aroostook County town of New Canada downed trees and Walker said numerous residents in that area reported dime- and nickel-sized hail. At about 6 p.m., Walker said he was tracking a ferocious thunderstorm near Presque Isle and the potential for more tornadoes west of Dover-Foxcroft.
A tornado watch was in effect Wednesday afternoon and evening for 14 Maine counties, including Androscoggin, Aroostook, Cumberland, Franklin, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Oxford, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Sagadahoc, Somerset, Waldo and York counties. The watches were expected to be lifted by about 11 p.m. Wednesday.
Walker said a cold front that is moving west to east is producing strong storms and has the potential to create more tornadoes.
“There’s just an unusual combination of events going on,” said Walker. “Usually a lot of the severe storms around here are killed by marine influence. In this one, we have a flow of warm, humid air coming in from the west.”
Walker predicted much cooler air over Maine by Thursday morning.
The National Weather Service defines a tornado watch as conditions favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms producing tornadoes in and close to the watch area. Thunderstorms with 70-mph wind gusts and dangerous lightning are possible. There also could be hail measuring about 2 inches in diameter.
The threat of severe weather came after a stretch of several days of unseasonable heat. Temperatures have soared into the 90s in spots.
Thunderstorms already blew through Maine on Wednesday morning,with high winds and lightning strikes causing damage. A fire in Camden likely was started by a lightning strike, and the Maine Sea Coast Mission building in Bar Harbor was struck by lightning, according to officials.
A chimney on the mission building on West Street was damaged by the strike but the bolt did not cause a fire, Bar Harbor Assistant Fire Chief Matt Bartlett said.
Fire Chief Chris Farley said lightning struck a barn attached to a house on Mountain Street in Camden. The house was saved, but an apartment in the loft of the barn was destroyed. No one was injured. The tenant was not home.
If a tornado does strike, people should go into below-ground areas at the earliest warning with flashlights and a radio and remain there until informed that the tornado has passed, according to Ray Sisk, Knox County emergency management director.
Sisk also said people should stay away from windows and warned people not to try to drive away from a tornado.
The Associated Press and BDN writers Christopher Cousins, Heather Steeves and Bill Trotter contributed to this report.