CARIBOU, Maine — Officials with the National Weather Service in Caribou confirmed that a tornado touched down in Aroostook County during a severe storm that struck Wednesday evening into Thursday morning.
Later Thursday, a meteorologist with the weather service said a possible second, smaller tornado had been reported in The County about 4:30 p.m.
The confirmed tornado’s path ventured one mile east-southeast of Little Madawaska Lake to four miles northwest of the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone.
It touched down at approximately 6:22 p.m. Wednesday, with winds estimated between 65 and 85 mph and a maximum path width of 75 yards.
No injuries or fatalities were reported.
Rich Norton of the weather service said the office received an unconfirmed report of a tornado that might have occurred about 4:30 p.m. Thursday in what he described as a rural area between Limestone and Fort Fairfield.
Unofficial reports indicate the area saw significant tree and similar damage, Norton said. He said that weather service personnel planned to go to the area Friday to look for evidence of a tornado.
The storm, which brought lightning, heavy rain and thunder to the state, downed trees in Aroostook County, set fire to a seasonal home on Great Wass Island, and torched a sailboat and barn in Searsport.
Later damage reports showed significant tree damage in Lincoln, where the weather service reported that heavy winds blew two garage doors off a storage building and that 1-inch hail fell.
Friday morning, 1,500 residents in Northern Penobscot County were without power.
One of the more notable problems was low hanging wires that caused a significant traffic backup in the southbound lanes of Interstate 95 in the stretch from the Kelley Road exit to the Hogan Road exit.
At that hour, spokeswoman Susan Faloon said nearly 3,500 customers were without power.
Small trees fell upon the bridge that spans the Little Machias River near Ashland. Trees also were felled in Caribou, Woodland, New Sweden and Stockholm.
Scattered reports of damage to barns and outbuildings were reported in some spots, including in New Sweden, where the roof blew off a barn into the roadway. Two bars in Caribou also were damaged by the storm.
A number of roads were washed out in The County, including Limestone Road in Fort Fairfield. At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, the city of Caribou activated its emergency operations center to handle all the calls. Students participating in events at Caribou High School on Wednesday night were kept at the facility until late evening. Several roads in the city were closed for an hour or so until debris could be cleared, including Route 205 and Grims Mill, Belanger, Albair, River, Brisette and Plante roads.
Scattered hail was reported in some areas, including Woodland and the New Sweden area.
Scattered power outages also were reported. Emily St. Claire, a Fort Kent resident, said she lost power at her home at approximately 5 p.m. Wednesday and it was still off when she awoke at 3 a.m. It was back on when she got up for work at 6 a.m.
Flooding also was reported on Main Street in Fort Kent, according to local residents. Virginia Joles, Maine Public Service director of communications and economic development, said Thursday that power was out to approximately 7,000 customers from Caribou to Allagash at the peak of the storm.
Joles said one of the circuits for the Fish River substation, which serves customers in the Fort Kent-Frenchville area, was struck by lightning Wednesday night. It went down, leaving 3,400 customers without power from 5:27 p.m. Wednesday to 1 a.m. Thursday morning. After the first strike, crews went in and repaired it. A short time later, twelve trees fell down on top of it and it was disabled again.
The company also saw a lot of damage along Grims Mill Road in Caribou.
“A lot of the trees that had fallen were down in that area,” she said. “We had a lot of work to do there. There also was a lot of cleanup in Ashland.”
A number of MPS workers labored for 24 hours straight, and were replaced by workers from Island Falls on Thursday. As of 3:30 p.m. Thursday, 400 MPS customers remained without power.
“Our crews worked hard and they worked safely,” said Joles. “They deserve a lot of credit for what they did to help people get through a powerful storm.”
On Great Wass Island, a lightning strike early Thursday morning destroyed a large seasonal home owned by the family of a trauma surgeon from Holden.
A bolt of lightning also shot down onto a 27-foot fiberglass sailboat in Searsport early Thursday morning, according to fire officials there. The lightning ignited the boat and the fire then spread to a nearby barn, which contained seven antique cars. About one quarter of the barn was destroyed, but the cars were unharmed, according to Searsport Fire Chief Jim Dittmeier. Firefighters from Searport, Frankfort, Prospect and Stockton Springs went to the fire on Mount Ephraim Road at about 1 a.m. Thursday.
A lightning strike also caused a fire early Thursday morning at 664 Main Road North in Hampden. When firefighters arrived at 12:35 a.m., flames were shooting out of the second floor of the rental home located next to Pat’s Pizza, Shawn McNally, a firefighter and paramedic with the Hampden Fire Department, said Thursday afternoon.
The fire was extinguished before firefighters from Bangor and Newburgh arrived to assist, he said.
The male resident of the home reported that he smelled something burning upstairs, according to McNally. When the resident went to investigate, he saw flames and called 911. The man and his daughter were unhurt, the firefighter said.
A bedroom at the back of the house was the only room damaged in the fire.
In Mars Hill in Aroostook County, Shannon Mitchell was driving on U.S. Route 1 just before 7:30 p.m. Wednesday when “the whole sky turned black.”
“I had never seen a sky turn so inky black so fast in my entire life,” the 48-year-old said Thursday. “I didn’t have the radio on, so I had no idea that there were tornado watches and severe thunderstorm warnings out for our region. Just a few minutes before I got home, it started raining so hard that I had to pull over. I couldn’t see the road anymore.”
In Houlton, Mary Stevenson was outside in her garden just before 8 p.m. Wednesday when the sky opened up.
“I hadn’t been inside all night, so I hadn’t heard any of the warnings about the severe weather,” she said. “I had to run in and leave some of my plants in my pots, and when I came out in the morning they were blown halfway down the street. I still can’t find some of them.”
The National Weather Service issued another severe thunderstorm watch for much of the state between 5 and 8 p.m. Thursday.
Strong winds on Thursday afternoon caused tree limbs to fall onto power lines, disrupting electrical service for about 3,100 customers in Piscataquis County, including in Milo and Bowerbank, Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. reported. Other communities affected included Barnard Plantation, Brownville, LaGrange, Medford, Orneville Township and several areas in the Unorganized Territory.
Crews working to repair several broken poles and downed lines caused by falling tree limbs were being hampered by the continued strong winds and thunderstorms.
Rain, thunder and lightning again moved in from Fort Kent to Presque Isle on Thursday evening, but several BDN online readers said that the system passed through their towns quickly and did not appear to be as damaging as the previous storm.
Isolated showers were expected after 8 p.m. before giving way to sunny skies on Friday, which will continue through the weekend.
Reporters Dawn Gagnon, Sharon Kiley Mack and Heather Steeves contributed to this report.