Anthony (Tony) Puzzilla retired from the federal government in 2009 after 43 years of service. During his government years, the focus of his work was in the fields of disaster preparation, response, and recovery with the Departments of Energy and Homeland Security in affiliation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He is now a full-time writer and lecturer focusing on railroads, the Civil War, motion picture history, and the local history of La Plata, Maryland.
Hope Triumphs over Chaos
The La Plata Tornado of April 28, 2002
By Anthony G. Puzzilla
The devastating F4 La Plata, Maryland tornado of April 28, 2002, was a significant event for several reasons. First, tornadoes along the Atlantic coast are not common. It tracked across the Chesapeake Bay almost to the Atlantic Ocean. Next, a tornado of this magnitude is extremely rare in the Northeast region. It is only the third to have occurred in the state of Maryland. La Plata has had two, in 1926 and 2002, and one occurred in Frostburg, Maryland in 1998. Also, The La Plata Tornado of April 28th was the strongest ever to strike Maryland, and the second strongest to ever hit the Northeast region. The strongest was the Worchester, Massachusetts F4 tornado that touched down on Tuesday, June 9, 1953. The cyclic supercell, which produced tornados in Shenandoah County, Virginia, and Charles County, Maryland, originated along the Kentucky/West Virginia border, crossed the state of West Virginia over the Ridge and Valley, Blue Ridge, and Piedmont Mountains, and then made it across the Commonwealth of Virginia. This is indeed a rare event as just like hurricanes, most storms weaken and dissipate when they cross over mountains. At that point in time, the cyclic supercell had traveled about four-hundred miles. Once across the Potomac River, it traveled across Charles, Calvert, Dorchester, and Wicomico Counties in southern Maryland, a total distance of sixty additional miles, resulting in the total track for this cyclic supercell to be about four-hundred sixty miles, a truly remarkable meteorological feat.