December 5, 2021

Storm rakes county

Fierce weather topples trees, causes minor flooding

Shenandoah Briere/contributing photographer

A large tree branch rests on a porch Tuesday at 113 Clinton Ave., Cortland. It was just one of several large branches that fell during a severe thunderstorm Tuesday night.

Christopher Witty walked out his house, head down, holding a pillow and carrying a back pack. He, his grandmother, aunt and cousin were all displaced from their home Tuesday evening when a severe thunderstorm toppled a tree into their two-family house on Greenbush Street.

Witty and his grandmother, Ida Eaton, were eating dinner around 6 p.m. when he said a tree from the side of their yard near Clinton Avenue toppled onto the house.

Cortland City firefighters evacuated them while they worked on getting the tree removed.

Eaton’s other grandson, David Witty, wasn’t home but got a call from his family and drove to see the damage. Witty and firefighters said they believed the tree had been struck by lighting.

“I can see some of the burn marks,” David Witty said.

Photo by Anne Lisi Crupi

A minivan splashes through the intersection of Main Street and Tompkins Street about 6:45 p.m. Tuesday as a storm dumped 2.27 inches of rain on Cortland. Trees came down across the greater Cortland area and minor flooding was reported.

That wasn’t the only storm damage fire departments across Cortland County dealt with Tuesday as 2.27 inches of rain fell in Cortland. Rainfall reports are still coming to the National Weather Service, but other parts of Cortland County saw between 1 and 2 inches of rain.

Cortland city fire Capt. Lee Price said firefighters responded to 22 calls for trees, branches and wires down.

Cortlandville didn’t see any flooding, but did deal with several trees down and a rollover car crash on Interstate 81 northbound, said Deputy Chief Gere Henry. No injuries were reported.

Virgil saw lightning and wind damage, said firefighter and Town Board member Jereme Stiles. A tree fell on an unoccupied house on West River Road.

“Several large trees in that vicinity got struck by lightning and it blew them apart,” Stiles said. Several power lines were down.

Homer Fire Chief Mahlon Irish said the worst of the storm missed Homer. “The city got clobbered,” Irish said.

In Cortland crews worked into the night removing large branches from houses, wires and out of streets in a storm that capped a day when the temperature climbed to 90 degrees.

Neighbors spoke of the ferocity of the storm.

“There was hail,” said Theresa Williams of 114 Clinton Ave. “Rain came down. It was lightning and thunder. The wind was so strong.”

Williams was on the phone making dinner and rushed out behind her home of more than 20 years in a vain attempt to save her canopy, the third lost to a storm in recent years.

With all the commotion, she did not see the large tree branch fall onto the porch of a house across the street.

“I didn’t even notice the tree come down,” she said.

She noted with relief that a large tree outside her own house was removed recently in advance of a city water line replacement project.

“It might have fallen on the house,” Williams said.

At 116 Clinton Ave. next door, the neighbors in a two-family house spoke of the excitement of power lines sparking and falling from a pole near the house where the tree branch fell.

“We heard a crackle and a spark and those came down,” Helen Morris said, gesturing to the wires atop a utility pole.

Power failures were reported across the greater Cortland area, but only two areas remained without power this morning — affecting 70 customers in the town of Dryden, utilities reported.

The downed wires on Clinton Avenue cut power to apartments off Grange Street north of Clinton Avenue.

On Port Watson Street, a group of people worked to keep the railroad crossing up so people could still drive down the street. Price said the crossing likely malfunctioned during the storm.

Minor flooding was reported in Moravia, said village Mayor Gary Mulvaney.

“There was a little bit in the village, but we didn’t get it too bad,” he said. “When I went around (the village) I didn’t see much flooding. Our system took it pretty well.”

A high chance for showers and thunderstorms will continue through today and into Thursday before tapering off Friday, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures are expected to rise, though, with highs of 89 Friday, 91 Saturday and 86 Sunday. Humidity is also expected to remain high.

Fire departments are reminding people not to drive through standing water because there could be unknown damage to the road or manhole covers that have popped off.

“The best thing people can do is stay inside,” Price said, and call 911 to report a problem.