Tornado causes heavy damage in Conway, Goshen, tearing roofs off homes, flattening barn


  • Path of destruction along Whately Road in Conway. Recorder photo/Ann Forcier

  • View of Maggs barn from Academy Hill. Recorder photo/Ann Forcier

  • Maple Street in Conway. Recorder photo/Ann Forcier

  • The Maggs barn before it was destroyed.

  • A large downed tree in a cemetery on Shelburne Falls Road in Conway Sunday, February 26, after a storm with heavy rains and strong winds Saturday night.

  • Large downed trees on a property on route 116 in Conway Sunday, February 26, after a storm with heavy rains and strong winds Saturday night.

  • Utility trucks line route 116 in Conway Sunday, February 26, after a storm with heavy rains and strong winds Saturday night.

  • Utility and fire vehicles line Elm Street in Conway Sunday, February 26, after a storm with heavy rains and strong winds Saturday night.

  • A pine tree rests where it fell on a seasonal home at 41 Pine Road in Goshen, Sunday, after a storm packing a tornado passed through the region Saturday night. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Above, a fallen pine tree damaged this seasonal home at 44 Pine Road in Goshen. Left, John and Jan Maggs’ barn off Cricket Hill Road in Conway was flattened by the storm. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Debris rests at the side of Fuller Road in Goshen, Sunday, after a storm Saturday night.

  • This home on Whately Road in Conway suffered massive damage in the storm. COURTESY GEOFF CANEPA

Gazette and Recorder Staff
Thursday, March 02, 2017

CONWAY — The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado touched down in Conway and Goshen on Saturday evening — Massachusetts’ first-recorded February tornado — leaving in its wake a flattened barn, roofless homes and scattered debris.

There were no reports of serious injuries as of Sunday evening, authorities said.

Residents in the Pumpkin Hollow section of Conway suffered some of the worst damage. The short but intense storm around 7:30 p.m. knocked out power to most Conway homes and businesses, service that multiple Eversource crews were still working to restore into the late afternoon Sunday.

The town declared a state of emergency at 9 p.m. Saturday and was working throughout the day Sunday to assess and repair damage, according to a statement released by Select Board Chairman John O’Rourke.

Eversource projected most customers would have power restored by 10 p.m. Sunday, according to town officials.

Conway Grammar School will be closed Monday, but the town’s emergency shelter in the school has not been activated, officials said.

O’Rourke said up to a dozen homes may have been been damaged by the storm. The maximum estimated speed of the twister was 110 mph, according to the National Weather Service. The tornado was preliminarily classified as an EF1.

In June 2011, Springfield was ravaged by an EF3 tornado that killed three and injured hundreds.

“As far as tornadoes go, this is much, much smaller than the Springfield tornado,” said William Babcock, a weather service meteorologist. “So people should not be comparing the two and thinking they’re the same.”

In the meantime, the public has been asked to stay away from affected areas and wires that are down, and specifically the area of Pumpkin Hollow.

Damage in Goshen

In Goshen, two homes, 41 and 44 Pine Road, were damaged by falling trees. It was not immediately clear whether anyone was in either home at the time or if there were reported injuries.

“My sense is that they are not a total loss — significant damage, yes, because I was able to go into the house at 41 Pine Road, and you could see the bedroom, and the ceiling was just destroyed,” said Goshen Fire Capt. Bob Labrie. However, he added, “both of these being seasonal houses they were on concrete blocks, and they hadn’t been knocked off their blocks.”

Emergency crews and utility officials worked through the day Sunday to restore power to affected parts of town. Earlier in the day, Goshen Fire Department said on its Facebook page that “many parts of town” were without power as of 9 a.m. Labrie said Sunday evening that all power was restored by 5 p.m.

One home at 202 Sugar Hill Road in Chesterfield was also damaged by a falling tree, Labrie said.

Route 9, which was closed closed in both directions after 7 p.m. Saturday from the Route 112 intersection to East Street, was reopened by about 4:30 p.m., authorities said. Downed trees had blocked the roadway.

But before the scene was cleared, “when the calls (initially) went out, half of our department that showed up couldn’t get to the station because of the trees.”

Labrie also said he accompanied National Weather Service meteorologists around the areas affected by the storm on Sunday.

“We knew (the storms) were all coming, we just had no sense for how damaging they’d be until they went through,” he said.

Tree damage in Conway

At midday, tree crew trucks and emergency service vehicles were working all over the central part of town and in the Whately Road and Maple Street areas to clear large trees that had come down.

The large barn owned by Jan and John Maggs was flattened by the storm. The barn housed an antique business, which sold old oak furniture and jewelry.

The two went out Sunday morning to inspect the barn and plan for retrieving the antiques housed inside. Throughout the day they were joined by neighbors wanting to help.

“As the day progressed we were joined by almost a score of neighbors that wanted to helpful,” John Maggs said.

Amazingly, the antique colonial house just a few feet from the barn seemed unscathed.

Conway’s United Church also suffered damage to its slate roof and steeple, and there were reports of interior damage as well.

The United Church, built in 1885, recently completed a three-year renovation to its interior, which cost more than $137,000.

Several of the neighboring homes along Whately Road off Route 116 also suffered roof damage with many windows blown out and trees damaged.

The central section of town was flooded with repair crews, most of them removing large trees, many aged rock maples, which came down in the storm.

About 87 percent of the town was without power at mid-morning, although that was reduced by half by noon. Power and tree service crews worked through the night and were arrayed across the town’s rural roads as the sun came up. A major break affected a primary line that enters Conway from Deerfield, Eversource reported. Most of the damage seemed associated with toppled trees or fallen limbs.

By 7 p.m., Eversource reported 225 customers of the town’s 922 customers without power. Other towns in Franklin County experienced far fewer outages, with Ashfield the closest, with 164, and Deerfield with 13.

Acting Gov. Karyn Polito and Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency officials are scheduled to visit Conway on Monday.