Monday afternoon’s wild-weather culprits were microbursts and not tornadoes, because the winds that wreaked havoc blew in straight lines instead of rotating lines, according to Eric Schwibs of the National Weather Service in Gray.

The meteorologist said Wednesday that one microburst hit the Norway area and a smaller microburst hit the Black Cat Road area in Auburn.

The unstable air mass also spawned a quick succession of multiple thunderstorms, he said.

Microbursts are sudden downdrafts of intense, roaring wind blasting out of a thunderstorm that hit the ground and radiate outward, he said.

“If you haven’t encountered one before, it will scare the hell out of you,” Schwibs said. “It’s a very concentrated wind over a small area.”

He said he’s been through a few that struck the Portland area where he lives. The most recent one happened on July 18, 2008. That microburst’s aftermath left 32,000 pounds of tree debris from uprooted trees, he said.

“The air comes rushing out in a hurry and it will knock down trees, telephone poles, flatten buildings and blow out windows,” Schwibs said. “The wind is typically blowing 60 to 80 mph and it may do quite a bit of damage.”

Microbursts aren’t rare weather phenomena in Maine.

“This happens frequently in the summer, but you only hear about them when they hit in populated areas,” Schwibs said. “They’re more common than most people know.”

Microbursts tend to form when cold fronts collide with warm, tropical muggy air, which is what happened Monday afternoon.

According to NWS reports preceding the storms, a slow-moving cold front situated over western New England drifted into an air mass with temperatures in the upper 70s and 80s.

Schwibs said the Norway area microburst was estimated to be “a good mile” in length. It was also accompanied by torrential rain, small hail and frequent cloud-to-ground lightning.

Describing the rain, Schwibs said, “It would be almost like being in a car wash for a minute. It’s a pretty intense experience.”

Rainfall estimates ranged from 2 to 3 inches, he added.

Other than in Monmouth, there wasn’t any flooding, according to Teresa Inman, administrative assistant at the Oxford County Emergency Management Agency in Paris.

Inman said Main Street in Norway was full of standing water from the deluge.

“You hate to spread the misery around, but at least somebody got some firewood out of it,” Schwibs said of the microbursts.

Two Central Maine All Stars athletes at a Babe Ruth baseball game at the Field of Dreams recreation complex off Route 117 in Harrison were struck by lightning.

When the storm hit, Matt Woodbury, 16, of Fairfield was leaning against Travis St. Pierre, 15, inside a baseball dugout. St. Pierre was up against an electrical outlet, according to Woodbury. The current apparently traveled through both boys and exited through Woodbury’s lower back. Neither was seriously injured.

“They were lucky,” Schwibs said.

Inman said she knows from personal experience to stay away from electrical outlets during thunderstorms.

“I remember one time when lightning hit the house and fire came out of the outlets,” she said.

At the Field of Dreams, players remained in the dugouts because officials believed they would be sheltered from the storm.

According to Schwibs, that was the wrong decision.

“It’s better to get in a car, because that offers some protection,” Schwibs said. “If lightning hits the car, it will conduct to the ground.”

“But a dugout is open, so, when anything strikes, you’re not really protected,” he said. “If you can hear thunder, then any lightning is close enough to strike you.”

Schwibs said people should pay more attention to weather reports — especially if thunderstorms are in the forecast.

Monday’s lightning strike of two ballplayers was the second such baseball-related incident in a year in Oxford County.

On July 3, 2008, a bolt of lightning traveled laterally through the sky from blackening skies over Mexico and struck the Marble Park ball field on Coburn Avenue in Dixfield. According to officials at the scene, the strike sent electrical current through many of approximately 50 youths and adults assembled for a baseball game. A bolt also blew a hole through a nearby building.

Aside from headaches and tingling sensations, and hair standing on end due to residual electricity, none of the injuries appeared serious.

Due to the danger of lightning, however, the weather service has devoted a Web site to lightning safety. It directs particular attention to outdoor sporting events.

“Where organized outdoor sports activities take place, coaches, camp counselors and other adults must stop activities at the first roar of thunder to ensure everyone has time to get to a large building or enclosed vehicle,” the site states.

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 When thunder roars, get indoors

To better safeguard people from lightning, the National Weather Service has an educational Web site devoted to lightning safety. It can be found at http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/.


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