(Historic) Severe Weather/Widespread Destructive High Wind Event
Friday February 17, 2006


The widespread and severe destructive wind event that occurred on Friday, February 17, 2006 goes down into the local record books as one of the most intense to have occurred in eastern New York and western New England.  Frequent wind gusts of 50-70 mph, associated with a convective line along an arctic cold front, occurred over much of the region during the morning.  Peak wind gusts with this line reached a phenomenal 143 mph on the top of Stratton Mountain in Bennington County, VT at an elevation of just under four thousand feet, 98 mph at the Saratoga County airport, and 60 mph at the Albany International airport. The gradient winds in the cold air behind the front then frequently gusted from 40-60 mph through the afternoon and early evening.   Damaging wind gusts occurred in the Capital Region and surrounding areas for approximately five to seven hours from the mid morning through the afternoon leaving 120,000 National Grid customers in the Capital Region without electricity and 325,000 total customers state wide throughout New York without power, the most outages in New York from a single weather event in five years, according to National Grid.  National Grid also ranked the extensive nature of the electrical infrastructure damage very close to that caused by the 1998 north country ice storm and the 1998 Mechanicville/Stillwater tornado day, with power outages as a result of this event lasting into the following Wednesday, February 22, in the hardest hit counties of Fulton, Montgomery, Saratoga, Warren, and Essex.  Emergency shelters were opened to house some of the thousands of residents without power in the environment of rapidly falling temperatures.  Shelters remained open housing people for up to five days after the wind event. Thousands of trees were felled with structural damage to many buildings, especially in the Mohawk valley and Saratoga County where some wind channeling down the valley may have occurred.  Structural damage ranged from blown out windows to collapsed porches to roofs being torn off buildings.  In fact, between 10am and 10:15am a window was blown out of the CBS6 facility on Balltown Road in Niskayuna, NY as a result of a powerful wind gust. Severe destruction to trees occurred at the Saratoga State park with an estimated 100 of the stately pines coming down forever changing the look and feel of the park, especially along the Avenue of the Pines.  The park was closed through the following week due to the large number of trees and limbs down.  And sadly, one fatality can be attributed to the wind event as one of the pine trees on the Avenue of the Pines in the park fell onto a DOT truck, killing the occupant. 

In the two days preceding the wind event, spring-like weather prevailed over the Northeast with record breaking temperatures in the mid 50s on Wednesday the 15th, and in the low 60s on Thursday the 16th.  At the same time arctic air was pouring into the Dakotas, Midwest, and Ohio valley with temperatures there in the singles digits and the 10s.  The extreme temperature contrast that was generated along the boundary between the two air masses lead to the development a powerful surface cyclone over southwest Missouri on Thursday the 16th.  The storm tracked to southern Michigan by Thursday night, then up the St. Lawrence valley on Friday, intensifying as it moved through the Northeast.  Widespread severe weather, including scattered tornadoes occurred over the Midwest and Ohio, and Tennessee valleys Thursday afternoon and evening with the remnant convective line intensifying over New York early Friday morning right along the front.  The convective line went on to produce, very rare for the cold season, lightning, hail, and damaging winds over much of the region.

Initially, a southerly flow of very mild air caused temperatures in eastern New York and western New England to rise through the 40s and back into the 50s through the early morning hours on Friday ahead of the front with a period of sunshine from 8:30am to 9:30am in the Capital Region in the wake of an initial line of rain showers.  During this same time frame the cold front and its associated line of downpours was moving through parts of Herkimer, Fulton, and Montgomery counties with winds gusting over 70 mph.  The convective line, as it moved into the Capital/Saratoga regions, as well as Schoharie County intensified and began producing occasional lightning and hail, as well as the widespread damaging wind.  In fact, on radar, the line appeared and behaved like a squall line that you would more typically observe in the spring or summer months, moving to the east at up to 60 mph. Residents in Saratoga County describe a calm before the storm as tranquil conditions preceding the frontal passage instantly turned into a wall of wind.  As a result of the widespread damaging winds coming out of the squall line, the Albany National Weather Service Forecast office issued blanket severe thunderstorm warnings from Saratoga, Albany, and Schoharie counties on east into Berkshire County, MA from 10:00am until 11:45am.  The following series of images are NEXRAD radar snapshots of the line of severe storms as it moved into and through eastern New York and western New England.

Image #1: Nexrad Base Reflectivity tilt level 1, 9:53am Friday February 17, 2006, Damaging Squall line.  This image was recorded just before the window at the CBS6 studios was blown out and as a 98 mph wind gust was being recorded at the Saratoga County airport in Milton Center.  This radar signature is called a line echo wave pattern (LEWP) where the line exhibits bowing segments.  The bowing segment in Saratoga County at this time was where some of the strongest winds were occurring.  The bowing segment in Schoharie County was also producing winds between 60 and 70 mph.


Image #2: Close Up Nexrad Base Reflectivity tilt level 1, 9:53am, Friday, February 17, 2006.

Image #3: CBS6 Exclusive Severe Weather Wind Shear Analysis, 9:53am, Friday February 17, 2006.
The red shaded area indicates a core of 70 mph winds close to the surface along the leading edge of the convective line in portions of Saratoga and Schenectady counties.   Widespread damage was confirmed as the high wind shear zone moved east through Saratoga and Schenectady counties, with measured gusts to 98 mph at the Saratoga County airport at 9:52am, 63 mph at the Schenectady County Airport at 10:05am, and 60 mph at the Albany International airport at 10:13am.

Image #4: Squall Line as it appeared on Albany Nexrad base reflectivity tilt level #1 at 10:10am, Friday February 17, 2006

Image #5: Squall Line as it appeared on Albany NEXRAD base reflectivity tilt level #1 at 10:33am, Friday February 17, 2006

Image #6: Squall Line as it appeared on Albany NEXRAD base reflectivity tilt level #1 at 10:45am, Friday February 17, 2006

The surface winds associated with the squall line and passing front were so unusually severe due to a number of complex factors that included the unusually mild air in place ahead of the storm, and the fact that the parent surface low was intensifying as it was going up the St. Lawrence valley.  In addition to the strengthening surface storm, the entire weather system was being driven by a very strong mid level disturbance and powerful upper level jet stream that was favorably configured to force air over the Northeast to rise rapidly, helping the squall line to develop.  The combination of the very strong features in the atmosphere and the subsequent very tight pressure gradient that was created at the surface and aloft, as well as the fact that the air became just unstable enough, meaning the air near the ground was warm enough when compared to the air aloft, to allow a very effective momentum transfer of the high speed air just off the deck down to the ground, resulted in the destructive winds that occurred in the downdrafts associated with the individual cells in the squall line.  It is important to note, that on many occasions, some of the ingredients are generally always present with the passage of storms over the Northeast where strong winds need to be considered in forecast during the cold season.  It is somewhat rare and unusual for all the parameters to be in place to allow strong winds down to the ground in an event like this one.  And the passage of the front was only part I of what was a long duration damaging wind event that continued through the afternoon and early evening.  Although, the initial burst of wind with the passage of the front was the strongest and most damaging.

The passage of the front brought very quick clearing with a return to sunshine.  The sunshine helped to slow the cooling process of  the air behind the front at the surface.  However, the the air aloft was cooling very rapidly.  With much colder air coming in aloft over comparably warmer air near the ground, the atmosphere became very unstable.  Winds aloft behind the front also quickly aligned through a deep layer which in conjunction with the instability, set up a very favorable scenario for mixing the strong winds aloft, which ranged from 50-80 knots from the 1000' level to the 5000' level,  down to the ground in damaging bursts.  Wind gusts ranged from 45-60 mph through the afternoon in the valleys, with gusts ranging from 50-70 mph in the higher elevations.  Winds dropped to below damaging levels between 4pm and 7pm, but still gusted through the night and into the day Saturday, February 18, to between 40 and 45 mph.  These strong winds accompanied the arrival of the arctic air into the day Saturday causing wind chills to drop to well below zero throughout the region.

This table is a listing of the reported peak wind gusts at various locations throughout eastern New York and western New England.  Observations are from WeatherNet 6 and National Weather Service ASOS (automated surface observation stations) located at area airports for the Friday February 17, 2006 destructive wind event.

Town County Peak Gust Report Approximate Time of Wind Gust
North Adams, MA Berkshire 57 mph 10:56 am
Pittsfield, MA Berkshire 54 mph 11:06 am
Albany (Airport) Albany 60 mph 10:13 am
Stuyvesant Columbia 66 mph 10:40 am
Broadalbin Fulton 61 mph 9:13 am
Johnstown Fulton 60 mph 9:22 am
Catskill Greene 55 mph 12:34 pm
Fairfield Herkimer 72 mph 9:10 am
Hessville Montgomery 59 mph 11:02 am
Glen Montgomery 55 mph (1/2" Hail) 9:50 am
Palatine Bridge Montgomery 52 mph
Stephentown Rensselaer 57 mph 4:06 pm
Milton Center (Saratoga Airport) Saratoga 98 mph 9:52 am
Waterford Saratoga 62 mph 10:13 am
Saratoga Springs (Downtown) Saratoga 67 mph 10:08-10:10am
Princetown Schenectady 66 mph 4:00 pm
Glenville (Schd'y Airport) Schenectady 63 mph 10:05 am
Middleburgh Schoharie 71 mph
Shandaken (Belleayre Ski Resort) Ulster 68 mph 10:08 am
Glens Falls Warren 61 mph 10:00am
Glens Falls (Airport) Warren 55 mph 10:16 am
Bennington, VT Bennington 66 mph 10:35 am
Stratton Mountain, VT (3885') Bennington 143 mph 11:46 am
Landgrove, VT Bennington 53 mph

The following is a listing of the wind observations taken at the Albany International Airport beginning at 10am and ending at 10pm on Friday February 17, 2006.  Winds gusted near or in excess of 50 mph for five hour period from 10:13 am until 3:16 pm with the gusts only dropping slightly after that.

Time Wind Direction Sustained Wind Speed Wind Gust Peak Gust Time of Peak Wind Gust
10:00 am South 14 mph 28 mph 32 mph 9:17am
11:00 am West 22 mph 35 mph 60 mph 10:13 am
Noon West 33 mph 55 mph 55 mph 11:47am
1:00 pm West 26 mph 46 mph 48 mph 12:04 pm
2:00 pm West 39 mph 51 mph 51 mph 1:51 pm
3:00 pm West 36 mph 48 mph 56 mph 2:58 pm
4:00 pm West 30 mph 41 mph 49 mph 3:16 pm
5:00 pm NW 26 mph 35 mph 44 mph 4:03 pm
6:00 pm NW 28 mph 41 mph 45 mph 5:20 pm
7:00 pm NW 30 mph 44 mph 45 mph 6:20 pm
8:00 pm NW 26 mph 38 mph 47 mph 7:40 pm
9:00 pm NW 29 mph 44 mph 44 mph 8:44pm
10:00 pm NW 17 mph 28 mph 40 mph 9:15 pm

This table lists the damage reports as disseminated by the Albany National Weather Service Forecast office.  This damage report list is only a sampling of the damage that occurred throughout the region during the Friday February 17, 2006 destructive wind event.

Town County Damage Report Approximate Time of Damage
Pittstown Rensselaer Trees and wires down 5:25 am
North Greenbush Rensselaer Trees and wires down 5:42 am
Fairfield Herkimer Measured 72 mph gust, tree damage 9:10 am
Mayfield Fulton Widespread tree and line damage 9:20 am
Indian Lake/Lake Pleasant/Wells Hamilton Widespread tree and power line damage 9:25 am
Amsterdam Montgomery County wide, widespread tree and line damage 9:30 am
Gloversville Fulton County wide, widespread tree and line damage 9:30 am
Edinburg Saratoga Roof blown off a mobile home, residents trapped 9:56 am
New Scotland (Thatcher Park) Albany Measured 60 mph wind gust 10:00 am
Glens Falls Warren Measured 61 mph wind gust 10:00am
Glenville (Schd'y Airport) Schenectady Measured 66 mph wind gust 10:05 am
Niskayuna (CBS6 Facility Schenectady Window blown out of building 10:05am to 10:10am
Milton (Saratoga Airport) Saratoga Measured 98 mph wind gust 9:52 am
Saratoga Springs (Downtown) Saratoga Measured 67 mph wind gust, flag poles torn down, many trees toppled 10:08-10:10 am
Middleburgh Schoharie Measured 71 mph wind gust 10:08 am
Queensbury Warren Trees and power lines down 10:10 am
Lake George Warren Trees and power lines down 10:10 am
Waterford Saratoga Measured 62 mph wind gust 10:13 am
Albany (Airport) Albany Measured 60 mph wind gust, thunder observed 10:13 am
S. Buskirk Rensselaer 3/4" diameter hail 10:25 am
Cambridge Washington Trees and power lines down 10:29 am
Old Forge Herkimer Trees and power lines down 10:29 am
Hunter Greene Tree damage 10:30 am
Lexington Greene Tree damage 10:30 am
Bennington, VT Bennington Measured 66 mph wind gust 10:35 am
Hurley Ulster Trees and wires down, portions of Rt. 28 closed 10: 37 am
Stuyvesant Columbia Estimated 66 mph wind gust 10:40 am
Clifton Park Saratoga Trees and wires down 10:45 am
North Adams, MA Berkshire Measured 58 mph wind gust 10:56 am
Saratoga Springs Saratoga Trees down on avenue of the pines, Saratoga State park, one fatality 11:00 am
New Baltimore Greene Trees down 11:00 am
Cairo Greene Trees down 11:00 am
Greenville Center Greene Trees down 11:00 am
Whitehall Washington Trees and power lines down 11:00 am
Fort Edward Washington Trees and power lines down 11:00 am
Lebanon Springs Columbia Trees and wires down, caused by T-Storm 11:03 am
Saugerties Ulster Widespread trees and wires down 11:30 am
Millbrook Dutchess Trees and wires down 11:30 am
Highland Ulster Trees and wires down 11:30 am
Sharon, CT Litchfield Trees down 11:30 am
Stanfordville Dutchess Trees and wires down 11:30 am
Warrensburg Warren Trees and power lines down 11:30 am
Schoharie Schoharie Trees and power lines down 11:30 am
Bethlehem Center Albany Trees and wires down 11:44 am
Sunderland, VT Bennington Trees and wires down 11:45 am
Stratton Mt., VT Bennington Measured 143 mph wind gust at an elevation of 3885' 11:46 am
Shandaken Ulster Measured 68 mph wind gust at Belleayre Ski Area 11:48 am
Beacon Dutchess Trees and wires down 12:00 pm
Poughkeepsie Dutchess Trees and wires down 12:00 pm
Livingston Columbia Trees and wires down 12:23 pm
Austerlitz Columbia Trees and wires down 2:10 pm
East Fishkill Dutchess Trees down across Rt. 52 3:03 pm
Adams, MA Berkshire Trees and wires down 3:30 pm
Princetown Schenectady Measured 65 mph wind gust 4:00 pm
Otis, MA Berkshire Trees and wires down 4:00 pm
Stephentown Rensselaer Measured 58 mph wind gust 4:06 pm