CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – What was it like to forecast and track the storm on June 1, 2011? 22News Storm Team Meteorologist Brian Lapis shares his memories from that afternoon.
The 22News Storm Team was ready for severe weather coverage on June 1, 2011, but what we got was a storm for the ages, not only in the Pioneer Valley but for all of New England.
The ingredients were in the air for severe weather on June 1, 2011: heat, humidity, instability, and energy in the atmosphere. That potential prompted a tornado watch from the National Weather Service, which means “watch out” and be ready for severe storms and possibly tornadoes.
In fact, by early afternoon, there were tornado warnings issued for the Pioneer Valley. The storms over Hampshire and Franklin county were favorable for tornado development, and they looked powerful. We thought these would be “the storms of the day.” They produced large hail and wind damage, but no tornadoes.
By this time we were continuously on the air, watching the Hampshire & Franklin storms the most closely and occasionally checking in on a line of storms moving out of the Berkshires and into western Hampden County. Little did we know, that cluster of storms would turn into the tornado.
It was shortly after 4:00 p.m. when former 22News Meteorologist Nick Bannin saw a report of a funnel cloud spotted at Barnes Airport in Westfield. A few minutes later, this happened:
The interesting thing about that moment was, typically New England tornadoes are short-lived and weak. After it went out of our view, there was a moment where I figured that was it. We saw it cross the river and now it is done, dissipated over downtown. That was a very short moment, and I quickly realized our ordeal was only beginning.
The tornado continued through Springfield and into Wilbraham, Monson, Brimfield, Sturbridge & Charlton. While our news crews were heading to where the damage occurred, we kept our eyes on the radar trying to clear a path and give residents some time to get to a safe place. It was our goal to stay one to two towns ahead of the storm.
While the 38-mile long tornado dissipated by 5:30 p.m. that day, there were more severe weather warnings that evening, including confirmed tornadoes in Wilbraham and Brimfield. Our continuous coverage didn’t end until the severe weather threat was over around 8:00 p.m.
If there’s anything good that came of that day, I think we all have a greater respect for the danger of severe weather, and the people of this area take severe weather warnings much more seriously they they did before June 1, 2011. Even ten years later, that hasn’t changed.