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MECHANICVILLE — The tornado here might have been the worst in recent memory, but it was not the first, and it will not be the last.
John Quinlan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albany, said that between 1950 and 2007 there have been eight tornados in Saratoga County, about one every seven years. In the greater Capital District, there have been 139 tornados during that same period, or 2.4 each year.
The area’s topography, with the Berkshire and Catskill mountains channeling airflow into the Hudson and Mohawk river valleys, creates a situation ripe for tornados.
“You get an interaction with air coming off the Catskills interacting with air going up the Hudson,” said Quinlan, who said the air flow creates an instability that leads to the twisters.
Quinlan said the Mechanicville tornado, classified as an F3 on a scale that ranges up to an “inconceivable” F6, was created when a low pressure system over the upper Great Lakes pushed warm air across eastern New York, creating wind sheer.
The sheer, interacting with thunderstorms generated by a cold front to the east, created three tornados, including the one in Mechanicville.
Could it happen again? As with all meteorological events, no one can say for certain, but historical evidence suggests that it could.
Paul Loatman, historian for the city of Mechanicville, refers to the Cohoes-Mechanicville area as “storm alley.”
“There is evidence of violent storms dating back to 1854,” he said.
Previous storms include one in 1986 in Mechanicville. Although this was not a confirmed tornado, it had cyclonic winds, and caused extensive damage in the city.
Similar storm struck the city in 1916 and 1969 as well.
“It is more than unusual, the number of violent storms,” Loatman said.
According to Loatman, the 1916 storm gave one newspaper editor pause when he couldn’t decide what to call the storm.
“Without the benefit of a weather channel to consult, old-time Editor Farrington Mead could not decide what to call the meteorological event which hit our town a year before American entry into World War 1. In the course of the same story, he referred to it variously as ‘an electrical storm,’ a ‘cyclone-hurricane,’ a ‘West India hurricane,’ and a ‘Kansas tornado,’ ” writes Loatman in an essay titled “Cyclone-hurricane hits city.” The essay is available at the Mechanicville city historian’s Web site.
Whatever you call it, one thing is clear: Tornado-like storms have visited the city before, and are likely to return.
Quinlan noted that we are now in the middle of the high season for tornados, 86 percent of the storms in this region occurring between May and August. June is the peak month.