Path length: 1.74 miles
Width: 440 yards
SPC coordinates: 39.9087 / -79.7274 End: 39.9009 / -79.6961
Corrected Coordinates Based on Analysis of Aerial Imagery:
Start: 39.908264 / -79.728404 End: 39.904422 / -79.684954
Note: Exact tornado path may not be straight and/or continuous.
An EF1 tornado struck Uniontown, PA, on the evening of February 15, 2018. One person was injured, and 200-300 homes were damaged or destroyed along a 2.35 mile path. The photos provided in the summary, unless otherwise noted, are from the author and taken with the CalU Meteorology Club drone.
The twister developed just west of the intersection of Phillipi Avenue and Pittsburgh Road, where it stripped siding and shingles off of a few homes. As the funnel crossed Pittsburgh Road, it plowed into the Otto Brick Company. The large overhead garage door blew out, causing the roof to collapse into the office. The showroom was decimated, and the apartments upstairs were destroyed.
Cathy Cummings, the owner of Otto Brick Company, was not there when the tornado struck. About 10-15 minutes after the twister hit, she got a text from her friend. It was a blurry picture of the building. She wasn’t sure what it was at first; however, it was the Otto Brick office. Cathy raced into town and stood on the hill at North Point Plaza, just south of the structure. The first thing she saw was two large dumpsters that were thrown into the back of the building. Cathy went around the front of the shop and saw the extent of the damage that actually occurred. Shortly after she arrived, the fire department came to check out the structural integrity of the office. Jason, the operations manager, went in with them and grabbed computers, mementos, and other things they needed to continue operating the business. Cathy continued to stand on the hill, crying for about another hour in disbelief that her company was gone. She was always told, “a tornado can’t hit Uniontown because of the mountains.”
Otto Brick Company reopened two months later in the North Point Plaza. The old structure was never rebuilt, but Cathy still uses the site to store supplies. While she was putting together the business at a new location, her manager continued to go into the destroyed one almost every day and try to fulfill their customers’ orders.
The tornado crossed Redstone Creek and enveloped Meadow Heights, a four-story senior living facility. Glass was shattered in windows and doors, and parts of the roof and concrete facade were stripped away.
The racing winds then ripped into Koval Building Supply, and the showroom was torn open. A large concrete block structure they used for storage was completely destroyed. Pipes and other building supplies were lofted and scattered throughout the area. Fayette Furnace lost most of its roof, with a large portion of it crashing through the neighboring Fayette Storage warehouse.
Directly behind Koval Building Supply, a two-story house had its entire roof, attic, and even an exterior wall torn off the top floor. The surrounding homes on North Gallatin Avenue were peppered by flying debris and sustained minor to moderate damage.
The Gallatin School sits at the intersection of North Gallatin Avenue and Lenox Street. The school was built in 1908 and now contains the City Mission-Living Stones, a nonprofit organization that provides housing and other services to the homeless. The twister sucked out windows and flung HVAC equipment from the roof of the nonprofit.
The tornado toppled numerous trees for the next quarter of a mile and produced minor damage to several dozen homes. A woman was injured in one of these residences when the door she was standing at struck her and cracked a rib. Along Bailey Avenue near the Lemon Street intersection, the tornado briefly intensified and leveled a one-story house. Only interior walls were left standing. Randy Green was inside at the time lying on the couch; when the walls started to get torn off, he ran into the bathroom. That was the only room in his house that had four sides remaining after the tornado.
Next in line was a group of 23 apartments. Every building was affected to a varying degree. Some lost a few shingles, while others had large sections of their roofs and most of their windows blown away.
The tornado then crossed into East Uniontown and slashed across Reppert Boulevard, where several mobile homes were torn apart. Randi Geelen and her two kids were trapped inside one of those trailers for 20 minutes before her brother-in-law Doug Vandivner pulled up and was able to pull them out. Doug told the Herald Stand, “For it to actually happen to your family and your home, it’s surreal. I still feel like I’m dreaming. I’m just glad they’re OK”.
The twister crossed Brushwood Road and leveled a swath of trees, with nearly 100% felled in that zone. From here for the next 0.80 miles, the funnel weakened and produced spotty roof and tree damage before it dissipated east of Coolspring Jumonvill Road.
When all was said and done, 20-25 buildings were destroyed, and 200-300 more were damaged. This event served as a wake-up call to those along the foot of the Chestnut Ridge that tornadoes can affect the mountains in southwestern Pennsylvania during any time of the year.
A Personal Story From The Author
The evening of February 15, 2018, was a day that I will remember forever. I was getting ready to go home Saturday, the 17th, for my grandfather’s 71st birthday party that my family was throwing for him. I was also monitoring the threat of significant river flooding in California, PA, caused by the heavy rain forecasted to fall Thursday night through Friday.
The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) had southwestern Pennsylvania in a General Thunderstorm Risk with no severe weather in the forecast. At 5:55 pm EST, I walked to my work-study job at the front desk at the Natali Student Center on the California University of Pennsylvania campus. During the two-minute walk from my dorm to the Student Center, I got drenched in a downpour. At 6:48 pm EST, I got a tweet notification from NWS Pittsburgh, showing a severe thunderstorm warning for Fayette County with a “tornado possible” tag. I pulled up radarscope on my MacBook and saw a very well defined couplet just east of Uniontown, or about 14 miles southeast of my location. For this reason, I promptly made the following Facebook post:
The couplet dissipated at the next scan, so I thought nothing of it until about 5 minutes later. That was when my coworker said to me, “Nick what just happened in Uniontown, my mom just called me and said all of our windows blew out of the house and that she thinks there was a tornado.” I remember distinctly replying, “Radar detected the rotation just east of town.” I sat there confused. His house in Uniontown was damaged, but the rotation was east of the town. I then looked on Facebook, and saw a comment on my post. It stated that the twister went straight through the community.
The next morning when the sun came up, the scope of what happened was revealed. A tornado ripped across the northern part of Uniontown. Hundreds of buildings were torn apart, and trees were downed everywhere. The twister spun up very quickly between radar scans, and the funnel dissipated a few minutes before the warning was even issued. This was a rare case of a tornado actually striking without warning.
We gathered information for this event from the SPC and NCDC Databases, the February 2018 Storm Data Publication (SDP), local newspapers, and aerial imagery and found the following differences:
- The SPC/NCDC/SDP list a path length of 1.74 miles.
- The text within the NCDC entry states a 2 mile path.
- Aerial imagery from a drone fly over shows a 2.34 mile path.
- The SPC/NCDC/SDP/ list zero injuries.
- Local newspapers reported one injury.
February 2018 Storm Data Publication
NCDC Storm Events Database Entry-Fayette County
NWS Pittsburgh Original Damage Survey via Iowa Environmental Mesonet
Severe Thunderstorm Warning via Iowa Environmental Mesonet
Choiniereachoiniere@heraldstandard.com, Alyssa. “Confirmed Tornado Rips through Parts of Uniontown Area.” heraldstandard.com, March 7, 2018. https://www.heraldstandard.com/news/hsnewsnow/confirmed-tornado-rips-through-parts-of-uniontown-area/article_501c92ac-7f0a-5c90-b62e-987731730e2c.html
Choiniereachoiniere@heraldstandard.com, Alyssa. “Uniontown Neighborhood Working to Clean up after Tornado Rips through Area Thursday.” heraldstandard.com, March 13, 2018. https://www.heraldstandard.com/new_today/uniontown-neighborhood-working-to-clean-up-after-tornado-rips-through-area-thursday/article_6a631b32-eebb-5979-923e-ce5ff008aa85.html
“National Weather Service Confirms Tornado Touched down in Uniontown Thursday Night.” Gazette, February 16, 2018. https://www.post-gazette.com/local/south/2018/02/16/National-Weather-Service-to-send-survey-team-tornado-reports-uniontown-fayette-county/stories/201802160131
“Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Hit by EF1 Tornado Thursday Night; Widespread Damage Reported: The Weather Channel – Articles from The Weather Channel.” The Weather Channel. Accessed October 30, 2021. https://weather.com/news/news/2018-02-16-uniontown-pennsylvania-storm-damage
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