Nor’easter arrives in the valley

Josh Robinson of Front Royal stands beside this toppled pine tree in the backyard of his house on East 17th Street in Front Royal. Robinson, who shares the home with his fiancee Leanne Burton, was on the couch when the tree came crashing in shortly after 1 a.m. Friday. Burton was in the bedroom asleep when a tree branch popped through the drywall above her bed knocking a painting onto her head. Rich Cooley/Daily

Front Royal resident LeAnne Burton woke up to what she thought was an earthquake. A loud noise sounded, the house shook for what she said felt like 10 seconds, and the picture hanging above the bed fell on her head.

Upon running outside she realized that extreme winds caused a nearly 50-foot-tall pine tree to fall on the East 17th Street house. Her finance Josh Robinson said the tree’s girth measured four feet.

While the tree fell on the roof, a branch broke through Burton’s bedroom wall about a foot above where her head rested upon a pillow.

“It scared the breath out of me. I couldn’t even have talked…if it had came a foot lower it probably would have killed me,” she said. “I feel extremely lucky. I’m very thankful it didn’t come through the house more than it did because my kids’ bedrooms are at that end of the house.”

Burton said Royal Oak Complete Tree Services did a great job removing the tree from the house by 5 p.m. Friday, but she could not tell exactly how much damage was caused.

Leanne Burton sits on the edge of her bed in her Front Royal home where high winds caused a tree to break through the drywall and knock a painting off the wall that hit her in the head shortly after 1 a.m. Friday. Rich Cooley/Daily

The tree that unpleasantly awoke Burton was one of many that fell throughout the area as a nor’easter blew into the Shenandoah Valley early Friday morning. James Lee, meteorologist with the Sterling office of the National Weather Service, said late Friday morning that a high wind advisory would remain in effect through 6 a.m. Saturday. Winds, however, should die down after midnight.

Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency late Friday afternoon to help communities cope with damage from the winds and ease the process for providing state assistance to hard hit areas.

Lee said gusts of 51 mph were reported a couple miles northwest of Woodstock, 52 mph in Winchester, and 35 mph in Front Royal. Just a few miles down the road in Hampshire County, West Virginia, a 76 mph gust was reported.

The high winds led to closure of schools in Warren, Shenandoah, and Frederick counties. While students had the day off, local fire and rescue services did not.

Warren County Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico said although the department was “very busy” the winds did not cause any major damage.

Warren County Fire and Rescue Services Lt. Jesse Smith saws through a fallen pine tree blocking Dismal Hollow Road Friday afternoon near Linden. Rich Cooley/Daily

“There’s not been anything too serious, but there has been a wide array of calls,” he said.

The myriad of calls included downed power lines; trees falling upon cars and houses; blown transformers that sparked small fires; and leftover ashes from controlled burns catching fire. The department also had difficulties handling a Linden chimney fire, as it was not safe for crews to get on the roof.

To handle the calls, Maiatico said rescue services “virtually doubled” its workforce. Employees due in for the 7 a.m. Friday shift reported three hours early, and those scheduled for a 7 a.m clock out continued working. Volunteers were also encouraged to report.

In Shenandoah County, Sheriff’s Office Capt. Wesley Dellinger said deputies started responding to reports of road debris about midnight throughout the area, and additional deputies were called in after an estimated 30 calls.

The debris was so prevalent, some deputies carried chainsaws in their cruisers to clear the roads.

“Sometimes it’s more simple for us to get the road clear quicker,” Dellinger said. “Otherwise we can have a deputy waiting one or two hours for tree crews to arrive to clear the road.”

Woodstock Police Chief Eric Reiley said his department mostly fielded calls about trees in the roads. There were no reports of structural damage to buildings.

“We dodged the bulk of the storm,” he said.

Middletown Police Chief Gary Benedict said his department received calls of loose garbage cans and a tree limb across Veterans Way Road, a dirt road off of U.S. 11, which was quickly removed.

The winds also caused power outages throughout the area. The Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative reported 3,515 outages in Frederick County as of 10:45 a.m. Friday, 1,018 in Shenandoah County, and 658 in Warren County. By 8:30 p.m., those figures stood at 1,026 in Frederick County, 1,273 in Shenandoah County and 41 in Warren County.

The Rappahannock Electric Cooperative reported 3,610 outages in Warren County and 53 in Frederick County.

A SVEC news release said citizens should avoid contact with downed power lines and not attempt to remove or clear any debris from them.