SPC Stats

Path length: 17.5 miles

Width:  200 yards

Fatalities:  2

Injuries:  55

Rating:  F3

County:  Prince George’s, Howard

A total of 9 tornadoes were confirmed on September 24, 2001 across parts of the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast.  There was an F4 confirmed in Culpeper and Fauquier Counties in Virginia.  This summary though looks at another significant tornado that day.  This was moved through Princes George’s and Howard Counties in Maryland.  It hit parts of the University of Maryland Campus and resulted in 2 fatalities.  

This tornado was rated F3.  It began just west of Hyattsville and quickly strengthened.  The estimated max winds were 200 mph.  As it moved into the western campus of the University of Maryland, 10 trailers were completely destroyed.  They were being used as a temporary office for the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute.  Debris from the trailers was found 60 miles away in extreme SE PA!  From the NWS Storm Data Entry, “Four of the six people inside the trailers were injured, one seriously. One staff member was thrown free of the destruction and was found in a dumpster nearby. Another person dug their hands into the carpet and held on as their feet were being pulled up in the air by the tornado. The other four occupants, including one child, took shelter under desks and survived.”

The fatalities were 2 sisters, age 20 and 23.  They were visiting their father who worked at one of the trailers.  They had left by car shortly before the tornado hit.  The tornado picked up the car near Denton Hall and “threw it either around or over an eight-story dorm.” They were killed instantly when the car crashed into a wooded area.  

The tornado continued to produce damage away from campus.  In the community of Cherry Hill, $40 million dollars in damage occurred at the National Agricultural Research Center.  In Laurel, 6 classrooms were heavily damaged at Laurel High School  3 people inside the school were injured by flying debris.  

Storm Data Entry

One thunderstorm produced a devastating F3 tornado which was on the ground for 17.5 miles from College Park in Prince George’s County to just east of Columbia in Howard County. Multiple vortices were reported with the tornado at times.

The tornado first touched down in Northwest Branch Stream Valley Park just west of Hyattsville. It rapidly strengthened to an F3 tornado with winds up to 200 MPH. The damage path ranged in width from 100 to 200 yards. The tornado crossed the intersection of Adelphi Road and University Boulevard into the western campus of the University of Maryland. Ten trailers being used as a temporary office for the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute were completely destroyed by the twister. Debris from the trailers such as video tapes and pieces of paper were found up to 60 miles away in Northern Baltimore and Harford Counties in addition to extreme southeast Pennsylvania.

Four of the six people inside the trailers were injured, one seriously. One staff member was thrown free of the destruction and was found in a dumpster nearby. Another person dug their hands into the carpet and held on as their feet were being pulled up in the air by the tornado. The other four occupants, including one child, took shelter under desks and survived.

Two University of Maryland students who were visiting their father who worked in the trailers left by car shortly before the tornado hit. The two sisters, ages 20 and 23, were killed when the tornado picked up their car outside of Denton Hall and threw it either around or over an eight-story dorm. They died instantly when their car crashed into a wooded area 300 yards from the road.

Most of the other buildings on the campus in the path of the storm were made of brick and suffered only minor to moderate damage, such as Denton Hall Dormitory, Easton Hall Dormitory and Dining Hall, and the President’s Mansion. A parking lot outside of Denton Hall full of cars was also hit by the tornado. At least 200 vehicles in the parking lot were damaged, including at least 100 that were blown into and onto other vehicles. At least twenty cars were totaled and one car was partially ripped apart. The woods behind the parking lot were nearly flattened. The bubble roof of the football practice facility near Byrd Stadium was removed.

Forty-eight people on campus, including 25 students, were injured by flying debris as the twister downed trees and ripped pieces of siding and roofing off buildings. In addition, residential areas near the campus, including the University Courtyard Apartments sustained damage. A total of 3000 students were left temporarily homeless after two dorms and an off-campus housing unit were evacuated due to storm damage. During the recovery effort, a 78-year-old firefighter who responded to the tragedy at the University died of a heart attack shortly after returning from the scene.

The tornado moved north-northeast off the campus and crossed University Boulevard at the intersection of Metzerott Road. The steeple of a church was removed and cars were flipped near the intersection. Power lines and trees were also downed. The twister continued through Paint Branch Stream Valley Park where it downed numerous trees. The tornado weakened to F2 strength before it crossed Interstate 95/495 just west of the Route 1 interchange. It was remarkable that even though the highway was filled with bumper to bumper rush hour traffic, the only damage reported was a flipped tractor trailer.

The next area hit by the tornado was the community of Cherry Hill. Several trees and power lines were downed onto roads and houses just west of Baltimore Avenue, including the Chestnut Hills subdivision. Several businesses along Route 1 sustained minor damage, and three additional buildings lost portions of their roofs. Three employees of a business in the Chestnut Hills Shopping Center were injured by flying glass after the windows on the front of the store were shattered. The tornado moved across the National Agricultural Research Center and caused over $40 million dollars in damage. Thirty greenhouses were damaged and several long term studies inside were destroyed. Fifteen other buildings west of Route 1 suffered minor to moderate damage. Numerous trees, including a row of historic willow oaks, were downed. Over 65 vehicles in the employee parking lot were damaged by flying debris. Eleven of these vehicles were totaled. Just north of the research center, “stunning” tree and power line damage was reported at the intersection of Sellman and Montgomery Roads. The tornado tracked across Powder Mill Road and ripped the roof off an office building at the intersection of Cedar Lane. It continued across the Beltsville Heights development and caused damage to the roof at Martin Luther King Elementary School.

The tornado continued moving north-northeast toward Laurel. The continuation of the damage path was located at the Virginia Manor Industrial Park on Van Dusen Road where several trees were downed. The tornado was spotted as it moved past Laurel Hospital and it caused minor damage in the Village at Wellington subdivision nearby. The next concentrated area of damage was found at Laurel High School. An annex with 6 classrooms was heavily damaged. The roof was ripped off three of the classrooms and three people inside the structure were injured by flying debris. Significant damage was also reported to the athletic fields behind the school. The tornado moved northeast across the Fairlawn development where it damaged several homes. One home on 10th Street was destroyed after the twister removed the roof and an outside wall. On Montrose Avenue, a woman and her dog were briefly picked up by the tornado. The woman sustained injuries to her hip and leg after being tossed 3 feet in the air and the dog landed uninjured. The historic Harrison Building at the corner of 9th and Montgomery Streets lost its roof and a church and school nearby were damaged. The tornado remained on the ground as it crossed the Patuxent River into Howard County. Across Prince George’s County, the tornado was responsible for $100 million in damage. A total of 861 homes, 561 vehicles, and 23 businesses were damaged countywide.

In North Laurel, the twister heavily damaged a townhouse complex on Riverbrink Court in the Settlers Landing development. A total of 43 townhomes were damaged, four of which were uninhabitable. The tornado weakened to an F1 before it downed trees onto All Saints Road. The tornado weakened to an F0 as it exited North Laurel and moved across Savage Park. Isolated reports of downed trees were received in the community, including on Red Jacket Way, Vollmerhausen Road, and at the intersection of Interstate 95 and Route 32. In its final stages, the tornado crossed the General Electric Appliance Park and downed its final tree at the intersection of Snowden River Parkway and Route 175 southeast of Columbia.

Tornado Path

Click Map To Enlarge

SPC coordinates:  Start: 38.93 / -76.98      End: 39.23 / -76.83

Note:  Exact tornado path may not be straight and/or continuous.

Image Extracted from the Storm Data Publication

Tornado crossing over the University of Maryland via Langston Majette. Extracted from Sept 2001 Storm Data.

Images via the NWS Sterling Summary

Photo by Langston Majette. Tornado is west of College Park Airport near University.

All but one of the damage photos below by Kay Grahm, Prince George’s County Office of Emergency Preparedness

All that is left of the Maryland Fire & Rescue Institute after the tornado.

University of Maryland parking lot. Cars were flipped and tossed by the tornado.
Church bus tossed into some trees. Church off Route 1 in Beltsville area.
Side of brick building in Beltsville blown out by tornado.
Downtown Laurel building lost roof and took other damage by tornado.
Roof gone from Laurel High School in Laurel. Copyright 2001, The Baltimore Sun, Photo by Kenneth Lam

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