National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
10-Year Anniversary

La Plata Tornado - April 28, 2002

April 28, 2012 marks the ten-year anniversary of one of the strongest tornadoes to hit the greater Baltimore-Washington D.C. area. During the evening of 28 April 2002, a long track, devastating tornado with a peak rating of F4 on the Fujita (F) scale* in La Plata, Maryland tracked across southern Maryland. Though F4 tornadoes are uncommon, even more rare with this event was its location well outside of the climatologically favored area of the country for violent tornadoes. This web page comprises tornado and tornado damage pictures taken by or given to the NWS Baltimore/Washington Weather Forecast Office.

*Note the F scale was replaced by the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale in 2007.



Tornado track overlayed onto a Mapquest map with F-scale ratings along track.



(Above) WSR-88D KLWX 0.5 Degree Radar Loop (Reflectivity - top / Velocity - bottom)




(Above) NASA satellite image showing the damage path cutting through La Plata, Maryland.
Damage path appears as a brown streak from left to right across the center of the picture.


Storm Origination/History

The tornado originated from a supercell thunderstorm that developed in central West Virginia and moved east across the Appalachian Mountains. In eastern West Virginia, the storm produced hail; it first became tornadic near Quicksburg, VA. Tornado warnings were issued for Rockingham and Shenandoah Counties, where a F2 tornado occurred. (Click here to jump to pictures and damage descriptions). The storm moved across Page, Culpeper, Fauquier and Prince William Counties, but produced little damage. Spotters tracking the storm reported rotation and funnel clouds, but no tornado occurred during this phase. In Prince William County, hail was reported.




Picture of a funnel cloud over Fauquier County by Mike Eckert, Meteorologist.


Charles Co., MD

The storm rapidly changed its character as it crossed the Potomac River. A distinctive reflectivity hook echo appeared and rotation became much stronger. The tornado developed about a mile east of Mattawoman Creek and two miles east of the Potomac River. The Potomac River is tidal and rather wide along the Charles County shore.
The tornado moved southeast across Spring Road about a half a mile north of Pisgah. It was F1 at this time (estimated maximum winds 75 to 112 mph). Its width was about 200 yds. The tornado hit a community along Ripley Road just southwest of Ripley and tore the entire roof off a home. Damage in this vicinity was rated F2 (maximum winds estimated at over 113 mph).

Photo from Tim Marshall.
The tornado continued southeast, where it maintained F1 intensity until it neared Rose Hill Road. Here the tornado appeared to strengthen, where extensive tree and structural damage was rated F2. At Valley Road, about a mile and a half west of La Plata, some F3 damage is seen (maximum winds estimated at over 158 mph). The width of the tornado also increased to about 330 yards wide.

Photo from Tim Marshall.
Between Valley Road and Morgans Ridge, trees were flattened (F2 damage). Tornado path (highlighted by brown streak and speckling of blue tarp roofs) moves from lower left (damage to homes along Morgans Ridge) to upper right (downtown La Plata).

Photo submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.
At Morgans Ridge and Quail Lane, several homes were destroyed. Some homes literally slid off the foundation when the tornado wind struck. This house on Morgans Ridge slid north.

Picture by Barbara Watson, NOAA/NWS.
Damaged house on West Quail Lane

Picture by Barbara Watson, NWS/NOAA.
Picture shows a destroyed house on Quailwood.

Photo submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.


A couple of houses, one on Quail Court and another on Quailwood (see photo above), showed F3 damage, while most were rated F1 to F2 intensity. East of Quailwood, the tornado destroyed part of the Archbishop Neale School (see photo below). Considering the amount of damage to the classrooms of this school, it is very fortunate that the tornado struck on a Sunday night when school was not in session. The heavy cement slabs that formed the roof lifted and fell into the classrooms, windows broke in, and walls were torn away in some places.


Damage to Archbishop Neale School.

Photo submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.
The intersection of U.S. Route 301 (right to left) and Route 6 (top left to bottom right). Quailwood is at the top of the picture with Archbishop Neale School below it.

Photo submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.
Damage to the United Methodist Church.

Photo by Dawn Glencer.
A truck sand blasted by tornado wind and debris.

Photo by Dawn Glencer.
Picture of what remains of the CVS (F3 damage).

Photo by Dawn Glencer.
What remains of the KFC near the CVS.

Picture taken by Dawn Glencer.


The tornado strengthened and widened further as it moved through downtown La Plata. Swaths of F3 and F4 damage were observed through town. These swaths and eyewitness accounts suggested that the tornado was multi-vortex (multiple, compact vortices circulating around the parent tornado circulation). Through downtown La Plata, the damage swath was almost one-half mile wide (approximately 650 yards). Some pictures from this section of La Plata can be viewed below.

The tornado likely was moving at an unusually fast speed of 58 mph as it moved through La Plata (nearly a mile a minute!). Therefore, the damage occurred in just a few seconds.


A view of the damage along Route 6 near Route 301. Cars were thrown and turned over, while others were hit with debris. Although many people were injured, it is surmised that the human impact could have been far worse had the tornado occurred on a weeknight instead of a Sunday night.

Picture by Dawn Glencer.
Damage to Posies Market on Route 6 near the County Government Building. Clean-up had occurred near the front of the picture, but not to the market itself. Only a few walls remained to this steel and block structure. This damage was rated F3.

Picture by Barbara Watson, NOAA/NWS.
The water tower, once full of water, was blown over in the tornado.


Picture by Barbara Watson, NOAA/NWS.
The lumber yard building on Saint Marys Avenue. Cleanup had already occurred in the parking area (left). This building was a brick and steel structure with a large spanning roof. Damage here was F3. Damage intensified to F4 intensity east of the lumber yard.

Photo submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.


Damage to a orthodontist office.
Picture by Barbara Watson, NOAA/NWS.
Lumber yard is on left edge of picture. Orthodontist Office was on next street to the left. Farther left and prior to railroad tracks, two additional houses and garages were gone. This was the F4 damage streak.

Photo submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.
Significant damage to a building on north side of F4 damage streak across Lagrange Avenue.

Picture by Barbara Watson, NOAA/NWS.


Just west of the railroad tracks is Maple Avenue. Two houses and two separate garages once stood between Maple and Lagrange Avenues (just south of Port Tobacco Road). There was little to nothing left of the two two-story houses or the garages.



Picture by Barbara Watson, NOAA/NWS.

Picture by Barbara Watson, NOAA/NWS.


The following are two aerial views of the F4 damage through the heart of La Plata.


The tornado was moving from left to the lower right of the picture. Lagrange Avenue goes from the lower left corner up to Route 6 near the top of the picture. The heavy F4 damage streak enters the left of the picture and moves right to the railroad tracks.

Photo submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.
Picture taken from above Route 301 looking east. Route 6 moves up the left center of the picture. The tornado path moves up the center and to the right center of the picture.

Photo submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.


After crossing La Plata, the tornado moved east-southeast, damaging extensively a heavily wooded area and clipping the Clark Run subdivision. The tornado crossed Route 6 again. Three additional homes were leveled along this segment of the tornado path.


Damage swath. Route 6 moves from left to right across the center of the picture.

Photo submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.
Two homes off Normandie and Route 6 that were leveled and another house with no roof.

Photo submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.


Two destroyed homes are shown in the picture above (view is to the north). Seven people were inside one of these houses; all seven survived (3 were in the basement, 2 were on the first floor headed to the basement, and 2 were on the second floor). A second house (in the background) also was flattened. A closer view of this second house can be seen in the second photo below. The first floor remained attached to the foundation, but the rest of the house was swept away.


Picture by Ed Pace, N3HJA, Skywarn volunteer for NWS and HAM Operator.

Picture by Ed Pace, N3HJA, Skywarn volunteer for NWS and HAM Operator.
This house appears to be well built and is on the north side of the damage swath.
Picture by Barbara Watson, NOAA/NWS.
This house was at the end of Normandie Woods Drive. It also had a block and brick foundation and no basement. Little remained except two cars, which were garaged slightly below ground level. Damage in this area east of Route 6 was F3 intensity.

Picture by Ed Pace, N3HJA, Skywarn volunteer for NWS and HAM Operator.


Picture by Ed Pace, N3HJA, Skywarn volunteer for NWS and HAM Operator.
The tornado continued across Horseshoe Drive and through a heavily wooded area, including the Kerrick Swamp.

Photo submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.
Damage to heavily wooded area as well as a classic convergent and cyclonic pattern to how the trees fell.

Photo submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.
The tornado moved up the hill to Hawkins Gate Road, where several additional homes were destroyed.

Picture by Ed Pace, N3HJA, Skywarn volunteer for NWS and HAM Operator.
View looking down on the end of Hawkins Gate Road. There appeared to be two vortex paths that spared the house on the lower left. One path moved through the trees just north of the house. The other hit the house on the lower center edge of the picture. The houses across the street on the east side of Hawkins Gate Road did not fair well. Parts of the homes may have been carried as far away as the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Photo submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.
The house shown, which is on the bottom center edge of the picture to the left, was a only a couple of days old before the tornado hit.

Picture by Ed Pace, N3HJA, Skywarn volunteer for NWS and HAM Operator.
This home was swept nearly clean off its foundation. The damage was rated high F3, possibly F4.

Picture by Ed Pace, N3HJA, Skywarn volunteer for NWS and HAM Operator.

Picture by Ed Pace, N3HJA, Skywarn volunteer for NWS and HAM Operator.


Picture by Ed Pace, N3HJA, Skywarn volunteer for NWS and HAM Operator.

Picture by Barbara Watson, NOAA/NWS.

Picture by Barbara Watson, NOAA/NWS.

Picture by Barbara Watson, NOAA/NWS.


The path width at this location narrowed to about 400 yards. The tornado impacted mainly rural areas thereafter.


Powerplant on the Patuxent River can be seen in the distant haze. The Patuxent River is the border between Charles County and Calvert County.

Photos submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.
Jameson Manor near Hughesville in eastern Charles County.

Photos submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.
Numerous barns were destroyed and rural homes damaged.

Photos submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.

Photos submitted to Charles County Government by Warren Robinette. Photographer unknown.



Calvert Co., MD


Map from Calvert County Emergency Management Agency.

The tornado entered Calvert County south of the Patuxent River Bridge (Route 231) at approximately 7:28 pm EDT after traversing 30 miles. Although it was weakening, it still was strong enough to destroy several homes and kill two people in Calvert County. The tornado damage in Calvert County was rated F1 to F2 intensity. The tornado moved offshore at approximately 7:45 pm. Additional tornado damage continued in Dorchester County across the Chesapeake Bay.

Homes in Calvert County suffered predominantly roof and siding damage. The occupants of the home shown below had safely taken cover in an interior bathroom.


Tornado direction was from behind house moving out of picture to the right. House is missing roof and front brick facing.

Picture by Ed Pace, N3HJA, Skywarn volunteer for NWS and HAM Operator.
Side view of the same house in picture to the left. In the foreground are downed trees and debris from a demolished barn or outbuilding.

Picture by Ed Pace, N3HJA, Skywarn volunteer for NWS and HAM Operator.

The damage path exited Calvert County and entered the Chesapeake Bay. The pictures below show damage to a swath of trees along the shoreline. Parts of trees were thrown into the Chesapeake Bay by the tornado.



Pictures by Calvert County Emergency Management.

Picture from Calvert County Emergency Management.


The tornado was seen moving east across the Chesapeake Bay from Calvert County's eastern shore. Tornado damage was rated F1/F2 at this point and had already traveled 38 miles. Pictures were taken by Charlie Boyer at Calvert Cliffs Plant. Copyrights may apply and permission must be asked before reuse.



First tornado (left) plus a cyclic, second tornado (right).



Hail Produced by the Storm

Hail up to softball size (4.5 inch diameter) was reported with the storm near La Plata. Many areas not damaged by the tornado were damaged from the large hail.



Page Last Updated: April 28, 2012