SPC Stats

Path length: 1.74 miles

Width:  440 yards

Fatalities:  0

Injuries:  0

Rating:  EF1

County:  Fayette

Tornado Path

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.

Summary

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.

Aerial image showing the damage at Otto Brick Company.
The collapsed roof. Photo via Cathy Cummings.
View of the collapsed roof from the inside of the structure. Photo via Cathy Cummings.

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.”

Photo via Cathy Cummings showing the dumpters that were thrown, and a hole torn into the office wall.

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.

Debris from Otto Brick Company that was thrown into the trees along Redstone Creek. Meadow Heights is visible at the top left of the image.
Another view of Meadow Heights.

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.

Aerial shot of the area. Koval Building Supply can be seen at the lower left of the image. Fayette Furnace can be seen at the lower right, and Fayette Storage is the building next door with a tan roof.
Damage to the Fayette Storage building. In addition to being hit by Fayette Furnace’s roof, half of theirs was torn off.
Another look at Fayette Storage and Fayette Furnace.

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 home behind Koval Building Supply that was unroofed.
Damage behind Koval Building Supply along North Gallatin Avenue.
More damage along North Gallatin Avenue.
Another shot of the unroofed home and damage along North Gallatin Avenue.

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.

Aerial shot of the City Mission-Living Stones.

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.

Damage along Bailey Avenue. Randy’s house can be seen at the center.
Another view of Randy’s house.
Another view of damage along Bailey Avenue focused on Randy’s house.
An aerial view of more damage in this area.
More damage in the neighborhood.

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.

Damage to the apartments.
Another shot of the damage to the apartments.
Another shot of damage.
Looking southwest from the Laurel Highlands High School toward the apartments.

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”.

Randi’s mobile home.
Damage in East Uniontown.
Trees that fell onto a home in East Uniontown.
More tree damage in East Uniontown.
Swath of trees blown down in East Uniontown.

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.

Aerial view of the blowdown along Brushwood Road.
Another image of the blowdown along Brushwood Road.
The last area of significant blowdown before the twister started to weaken.
A garage that was was leveled; this was the last major structural damage before the twister weakened.
The twister dissipated in the field toward the center of the image.
Some damage toward the end of the track.

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.

Flooding in California, PA on the evening of February 16.

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 Facebook post I made.

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 velocity on the radar showing just how quickly the twister spun up.

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.

Video

Discrepancies:

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:

Path Length:

  • 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.

    Injuries:

    • The SPC/NCDC/SDP/ list zero injuries.
    • Local newspapers reported one injury.

      Sources:

      The Storm Prediction Center

      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

      Google Earth

      Cathy Cummings

      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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      Note:  There are some images/videos in our summaries that were licensed to us to be used only on this website. If you would like to use an image/video in your project or blog, please contact us and we will grant permission if possible.

      Newspaper clips are embedded via newspapers.com.  Please see their terms and conditions.


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