BANGOR, Maine — Most Maine residents are aware that Wednesday was a raucous weather day, but the question is: Just how bad was it?
Teams from the National Weather Service were traveling the state Thursday to confirm in person what computers and radar told them Wednesday: that several tornadoes touched down across the Pine Tree State. As of early evening, at least one tornado in the Embden area had been confirmed.
Eric Schwibs, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s forecast center in Gray. said Thursday morning that there were two teams inspecting hard-hit areas. He expected the inspection to take most of Thursday.
“It takes time to get to those areas,” he said. “Where these storms went through, they didn’t follow the roads.”
Schwibs said teams were focusing on Oxford, Franklin and Somerset counties, which were hit particularly hard on Wednesday.
Mike Ekster, another meteorologist with the Gray forecast center, told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday afternoon that investigators confirmed that a tornado caused significant damage in the Somerset County town of Embden and the investigation was continuing in other areas.
“We still have guys looking at the path through there,” said Ekster at about 5 p.m.
The northern regions of Maine are covered by the National Weather Service’s Caribou forecast center. Meteorologist Paul Fitzsimmons said investigators spent Thursday collecting data by telephone and were planning field investigations for Friday, primarily in remote areas of extreme northern Penobscot and Piscataquis counties.
The damage left by a storm tells the story of what caused it, said Schwibs. Severe thunderstorms have wind that blows one way, pushing trees and other debris in the same direction. The swirling winds of tornadoes cause a much different brand of damage.
“In either case the storms were classic weather cells that you would see in the Plains states,” said Schwibs. “They were supercells and quite a few of the storms we had were very severe.”
Despite the severity of Wednesday’s weather, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for Maine.
“We see this every year,” said Schwibs. “Last year we had three tornadoes near Portland in July. They’re not as uncommon as most people think.”
Schwibs said determining whether tornadoes actually touched down — funnel clouds that don’t touch the ground are not tornadoes — is important for tracking long-term weather patterns. He said warm-season weather in Maine has become much more severe in the past decade than it used to be.
“What’s causing that, I can’t tell you,” he said, adding that the skies over Maine will be quiet for the next several days.