HOLLIDAYSBURG - A severe thunderstorm late Saturday afternoon cut the heat and humidity across Blair County, but left thousands without power from Hollidaysburg to Altoona and at least one nursing home on auxiliary power.
More than 4,500 Penelec customers in Blair County - mostly in Altoona, Logan Township, Frankstown Township and Hollidaysburg - were without power at 8:25 p.m., according to the Penelec website. Another 2,500 other Penelec customers lost service in Cambria, Bedford and Huntingdon counties.
As many as 9,000 customers were without power at the height of the outages.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Lakemont Volunteer Fire Company firefighters clear a fallen tree Saturday on Frankstown Road between Forrest Street and Chapel Drive.
"We're calling in crews and getting out in the field," Penelec spokeswoman Beverly Green said Saturday. "A lot of trees are down - a lot of large limbs. Depending on the area, it could be the middle of the night or tomorrow morning before service is restored."
The storm drove into a hot and humid air mass that at least tied the July 7 record of 99 degrees for Altoona. The temperature dropped about 14 degrees in an hour after the storm left its mark on the landscape.
It hit the area about 5:30 p.m. as a line of severe thunderstorms was reported from Loretto, Cambria County, to Clymer, Indiana County. The National Weather Service in State College had issued severe thunderstorm warnings at the time.
As the opening act to the storm, multiple cloud-to-ground lightning bolts flashed through the sky.
One of those bolts split a tree on the 300 block of Poe Place in the Garden Heights section of Altoona, one of the harder hit areas from the storm.
Bette Richards was inside the house, owned by her brother, Dan, watching golf on TV when the bolt struck.
"I heard a huge crack. The tree crashed on the side of the house and onto the deck. I'm fortunate that it didn't do more damage," she said.
The lights flickered several times before going out at The Lutheran Home in Hollidaysburg, causing the long-term care facility to operate off of its generator.
Traffic lights were out from Hollidaysburg to the top of Lakemont hill on Route 36, which was also covered with tree limbs and other debris from the storm.
Logan Township firefighters and police responded to numerous calls for downed trees and power outages across the residential sections of Lakemont, township Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Blake said. A number of streets, including Frankstown Road were closed, until crews removed downed trees.
There were no reported injuries in the township, Blake said.
Storm damage was also reported in Huntingdon and Clearfield counties, the weather service said.
Former commercial pilot Carl Enmon of East Southey Avenue in Garden Heights estimated the winds to be at least 70 mph near his house.
"I never saw wind that hard before here," he said. "Ever."
It bent a 50-foot tree in his backyard half over, he said.
He said he saw it coming from the west, a thunderhead "anviled" on top.
"Black as night," he said. "It hit like no tomorrow."
He thought at the time it might be a tornado or a micro-burst.
"I knew we would get creamed," he said.
As Allen Bruce of Garden Heights watched the wind begin to howl, he called - as a joke - to his family to get in the basement.
It's a tornado, he said.
Mid-joke, he heard a crack, and a large limb on a maple tree on his property next to the street over fell.
It was a tree he wanted to get rid of anyway, and this will be a good excuse, he said about two hours later.
Bruce grew up amid coastal storms in North Carolina, but he's always wanted to see an actual tornado.
"I'd love to," he said.
Aaron Parr of Sylvan Heights was driving north on Interstate 99 when the storm hit.
"There was lightning and all of a sudden, a wall of water," he said.
Visibility went lower than he's ever experienced as a motorist, and most of the drivers in his vicinity began pulling over.
He did too, reluctantly - worried he'd get rear-ended.
When he got home, the power was off, but it came back on in about two and a half hours.
Mirror Staff Writer Mark Leberfinger is at 946-7450. Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.