HEMPFIELD TOWNSHIP, Pa. — On March 23, 2011, an EF2 tornado produced 120 mph winds and roared through Westmoreland County, leaving behind a 7-mile-long path of destruction.
In total, 90 homes were damaged. Thirty of them were completely destroyed. No one was hurt in the storm.
Hempfield Township High School was among the buildings damaged in the storm, forcing the school to move its graduation ceremony.
The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning before the funnel touched down in Sewickley Township. The tornado followed a path along Route 136 before hitting Hempfield High School and moving on to Fort Allen.
A teenager at the time, Tyler Tubbs became known as “Tornado Boy” after video of his reaction to the storm, which he posted to YouTube, went viral.
Tubbs was home alone and made the video on his iPod. He later received advertising offers from Google and made numerous appearances on national television shows.
A transcript of Tubbs’ excited commentary was also printed on T-shirts and sold to raise money through the United Way for victims of the storm.
Linda Comm, the musical director at that time, was inside the school when the tornado struck at about 4:45 p.m.
“One of our moms came running in and said, ‘There's a tornado over the high school," said Comm.
Comm and 55 students were practicing for the spring musical as the tornado barreled toward the school’s auditorium.
“We grabbed all the kids. We had about 30 seconds to get them out of the outside, out of the lobby, out of mini theater and down under the stage,” said Comm.
The funnel cloud ripped off the roof of the school, demolished part of the school’s stadium and toppled the scoreboard and light posts.
“The power went out immediately and there are no windows down there, and it was instantly black. This is a whole group of drama students, so you can imagine, they had a strong reaction,” Comm said chuckling.
The worst damage was in nearby Fort Allen, where homes were knocked off foundations and the usual neighborhood scenery was turned into a confetti of debris. Downed trees and power lines blocked roads and homeowners had to go hunting for their missing sheds and backyard playsets.
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