Sudden storms whip through Cherry Hill over weekend

Homes damaged, trees uprooted in one section of township due to ‘downburst’

During thunderstorms in the overnight hours of Sept. 28-29, a ‘downburst’ of wind caused a tree on the property of Michael and Ron Gallo, at 424 Washington Avenue in the township’s Windsor Hill section, to come crashing through the roof and into the nursery where their 18-month-old foster child slept. (Photo credit: Ron Gallo/Special to the Sun)

Cherry Hill residents were awakened to the sound and fury of Mother Nature during the overnight hours of Sept. 28-29, when a line of heavy thunderstorms with significant wind gusts called “downbursts” tore through sections the township and caused sporadic damage.

According to the Cherry Hill Fire Department, it, along with emergency management services, responded to more than 120 incidents related to the storm, including one dwelling fire. The Cherry Hill Police Department responded to more than 100 storm-related calls between 11 p.m. on Sept. 28 and 6 a.m. on Sept. 29.

The township’s Windsor Park section appeared to have taken the brunt of the storm. Two days after its departure, multiple trees were seen to be uprooted and split from their base, and branches and other debris littered the streets around the homes along many of its lanes, chiefly Washington Avenue and Silver Hill Road.

Michael and Ron Gallo’s residence at 424 Washington clearly took the worst of the damage. Michael said in a post on a neighborhood-themed Facebook site that a big tree on his property, which was slated to be removed, “broke in half, came through our roof into the nursery of our foster kiddo and then into our other kids rooms. Our roof and nearly all of our 2nd floor is destroyed and the water damage is really bad.”

Partner Ron Gallo posted a snapshot to that same site of damage to the second story of his residence from the inside. Parents to an 8-year-old girl, 7-year-old boy and new foster parents of an 18-month-old, they are still in shock.

“I can’t get over how quickly it happened and how it happened. It went off like a bomb in the middle of the night. It started with lightning in the distance, and at first I didn’t suspect anything was up,” Ron said.

“I went upstairs and the power went out all of a sudden and it was storming. And I was talking to my daughter, and there was this distinct whistling wind sound and then I was shaking because the entire house felt like a train was shaking it. I grabbed my daughter, threw her into the hallway … I started screaming for my son, trying to open the nursery door, tried to bust it open. When I did, the ceiling fan was whipping all over, because the tree was in the room, the roof was missing, and I had to climb through all this debris.”

According to Paul Fitzsimmons from the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, the storm that descended over Cherry Hill began like other thunderstorms with warm air aloft that suddenly meets colder air, causing the volatility that comes with telltale thunder, lightning and bursts of wind and heavy rain.

“We got a lot of damage reports from the burst. We’re not sure what the maximum gust was, but we estimated that the sustained winds reached over 60 mph. Below 200 feet of elevation, we saw on radar that winds reached up to 70 mph.”

Fitzsimmons further revealed that, in a downburst, strong winds descend vertically through a storm, then hit the ground and “fan out,” accelerating as they move. Significant damage to public and private property – homes and vehicles as well as telephone and light poles and traffic apparatus – often results.

“The best way to describe it is to say that the wind is negatively buoyant, like dropping a brick into a pool of water, where the water will be displaced very quickly by the weight of the brick and spreads outward along with the force of the weight. It’s a very localized and rapid event.”

The Gallos all got out unscathed, but in the time the storm blew through to the point it was only raining – roughly 2.5 minutes – the house was rendered uninhabitable. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help, at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/gallo-family-rebuild.

Alison Drumheller, of Windsor Drive in the township’s Windsor Park West/Erlton North section was away for the weekend with her family, but quickly reversed course thanks to a tree that split in their front yard and was found resting on their house.

“We woke up Sunday to texts and calls from my parents and neighbors and headed home. My son Caden was bummed because that’s our ‘picture tree.’ He and his sister stand in front of that tree for all the first day of school, Easter, etc. over the past 10 years. More than anything we were glad no one got hurt. Our dog sleeps right there so also glad no one was home for that reason,” she said in an email exchange with The Sun.

Per the township website, the Mayor’s Office and Department of Public Works announced  expanded services to help storm-affected residents rid themselves of debris. From now through Oct. 11, residents in the neighborhoods to the west of Kings Highway can schedule a  storm-related yard-waste collection by calling (856) 424-4422. Pickups will be scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis.