If a tornado blows through the Maine woods but no one’s there to see it, did it really happen?
A hard-hitting thunderstorm blew through the woods and lakes north of Moosehead Lake on Aug. 29, churning the air at speeds that reached nearly 70 mph and indicating to the National Weather Service that Maine may have seen its first tornado of the year.
But the weather service can’t confirm it because its weather equipment wasn’t close enough to the event, Caribou-based meteorologist Rich Norton said. The winds passed over such a remote area that few, if anyone at at all, likely witnessed it.
“The problem is, there isn’t anyone out in that area to contact,” Norton said.
The weather service doesn’t have an outpost in that immediate area, but the closest radar picked up high velocity winds moving in tight circles, which would indicate the shape of a tornado.
That shape would have a trail of swirl-shaped debris, Norton said, but in the deep woods, “there are no fixed structures where we can contact [to ask], and there’s no real population in that area, so it makes it difficult.”
In search of confirmation, he contacted the Forest Service, which is scheduled on Saturday to pass through the area where the storm swept through along the northern Piscataquis county line.
He asked rangers to look out for tornado evidence — for instance, “debris balls,” whipped aloft and dropped on the ground.
But even those tell-tale signs could elude the rangers among the Moosehead Lake region, where there are few structures to blow away, Norton said.
It’s likely the suspected tornado mostly passed over the smooth surfaces of lakes, or wasn’t strong enough to uproot and throw trees as it blew through the woods. Maine tornadoes are small, weak, and brief, according to Norton.
But confirming whether it happened is still important, he said.
But still, the meteorologist said, “We like to confirm whether or not what we saw [on the radar] was what happened.”