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More accounts of the alleged Sandy tornado

What started as one reader’s recollection of what he believed was a tornado in Sandy during late August 1979 has inspired other witnesses to come forward with their evidence, anecdotes and assertions on the event. by: PHOTO COURTESY: RONALD MCQUEEN - The wedge of a supercell,  capable of producing a tornado, rushes above Sandy in late August,  1979.

Three more people have come forward — one of them with pictures taken that fateful day — saying they were there, and watched the event unfold before their eyes.

Marvin Mosbruker did not take pictures, but he remembered the day vividly enough to call the Sandy Post and tell the story of a vicious wind that flipped his 60-by-22-foot outbuilding north of Bluff Road while he and his wife watched.

“My wife and I watched it for half an hour,” he said. “It was just a great wind, and it was constant. I had a bottle of wine in one hand and my wife said, ‘Go out there and do something!’ That was the only time I didn’t listen to her.”

Such anecdotes go a long way to continue the conversation and add color to the legend, while others bring hard evidence to the table. Ronald McQueen is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service who lived in Sandy in 1979.

He’s the one who took pictures, which we’ve published in this installment of what might as well be called the tornado files. Along with the photos comes McQueen’s professional analysis, which he sent via email from his home in Lubbock, Texas.

“My memories of the storm that hit Sandy around Aug. 20, 1979, are similar to those in this article,” McQueen said in an email sent after the first tornado article appeared. “I recall the large, dark, wedge-shaped cloud that was followed immediately by ferocious winds, hail and then a flood.”

While McQueen said he didn’t see anything resembling a tornado, and can’t add direct evidence of one, he leaves the possibility open.

“I do believe the 1979 Sandy storm was a supercell capable of producing a tornado,” he wrote. “The violence of the wind, hail and flood indicated the storm had sufficient longevity to build a massive rain and hail core aloft, and this would have been very possible if the storm had strong rotation with separate updrafts and downdrafts. The supercell is well-known as the type of storm most capable of violent weather, including tornadoes.”

McQueen photographed the storm as it moved into the Sandy River Canyon near his family home, one photo revealing the very dark wedge cloud as it was churning northward through the canyon.

“I wondered if that ‘wedge’ was confused by some people as being a tornado,” he wrote. “A significant part of my career has been teaching supercell structure in the southern Great Plains, collecting and assessing eyewitness reports of tornadoes and other severe weather, and piecing information together to determine validity of severe weather warnings.”

For this reason, McQueen wrote that it is his belief that the majority of the wind damage that evening was from severe, straight-line winds.

That lines up with Mosbruker’s account, but McQueen said to be sure he would need more evidence, including analysis of the ground damage pattern, which becomes more interesting when we include another email from eyewitness Judy Sheppard.

“I live down the hill from Cedar Creek,” Sheppard wrote. “The wind touched down here, clearing a circular area of big trees which is still noticeable now as it is surrounded by the original trees. Cedar trees laid down like match sticks.” Sheppard also said she would get asked over the years what caused the circular opening in the trees.  

“Mother Nature has been repairing it but I can look at it and remember,” she wrote.The circular pattern Sheppard mentions would certainly warrant a look by an expert, and perhaps McQueen would like to come up to Sandy for such a purpose. After all, he is a scientist.

 “Are violent thunderstorms with tornadoes possible in Sandy, and should residents expect another one? Of course,” wrote McQueen. w