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Fierce microburst rips through Methuen

A National Grid employee worked to repair downed power lines on Emery Street after a microburst hit Methuen Friday.

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

A National Grid employee worked to repair downed power lines on Emery Street Friday after a microburst hit Methuen.

A microburst swept through Methuen late Thursday, damaging homes, tearing up trees and telephone poles at the roots, and causing power outages across a 2-mile stretch along Riverside Drive, according to the city’s police chief and the National Weather Service.

“We’re just lucky we haven’t had storms like this before,” said Police Chief Joseph Solomon. The powerful storm, which hit at 4:45 p.m., lasted just 10 or 15 minutes, he said, starting near Interstate 93 and ending in the Emery Street neighborhood, where a tree fell on top of a 90-year-old woman’s home, putting five holes in the roof.

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“She was home with her daughter, but nobody was hurt,” said Solomon. No injuries were reported during the storm, he said.

A microburst is a local, short-lived downdraft in a thunderstorm. A microburst can pose a threat to life and property, with wind speeds as high as 150 miles per hour in extreme cases, according to the National Weather Service. The fastest wind ever measured in a microburst, said meteorologist William Babcock, was 175 miles per hour outside of Wilmington, N.C., in 1999.

Babcock said that Thursday’s storm brought microbursts across Massachusetts, including in Greenfield, Worcester, the Methuen area, and Woonsocket in Rhode Island. In Western Massachusetts, he said, the winds were estimated at 80 miles per hour; he said they were probably around 60 to 80 miles per hour in the eastern part of the state.

Solomon said the microburst in Methuen ripped up five telephone poles in a row, snapping them off right at their bases along Riverside Drive, then took the roof off of Hughes Motors. It continued towards Emery Street, tearing up trees in a park, strewing branches everywhere, and uprooting 80-foot trees and the concrete at their bases. One fire started in a tree, said Solomon, when wiring came down and hit the tree. Many power lines were shredded, he said.

On Emery Street, in addition to the damaged home, the tops of trees were sheared clean off, said Solomon.

“It almost looked like a beaver had gnawed the ends off,” he said. “Just ripped them right off the tops. Some of these large, large trees were thrown across the street.”

According to the National Grid website, Methuen had just 37 customers still without power by Friday at around 3:15 p.m. The estimated restoration time was 4 p.m.

“National Grid and police and fire were all out in strength, and I think they did a great job,” said Solomon, who said police officers were pulled from covering the city’s fireworks to help with storm response.

In Medford, where 261 customers were still without power by Friday afternoon, a giant tree fell in between two homes on Capen Street, probably knocked down by a microburst, according to a fire official.

“The storms came through, they came on quickly and very powerful,” said Deputy Chief Scott Graham. The tree on Capen Street brought down a power line and snapped a telephone pole in half.

“We’re safe. That’s all that matters,” said Danny Mahoney, who lives with his parents in one of the homes the tree fell between. “It broke a few windows. We don’t know yet if the foundation was shifted. It’s a big tree.”

Evan Allen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen. Dina Rudick of the Globe staff contributed to this story.
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