July 20, 2014 01:00AM
By Dan Brechlin
MERIDEN — City resident Peter Polack has made hundreds of trips to Hubbard Park, hiking, cleaning up garbage and clearing trails of fallen trees. A recent trip, however, brought something Polack had never seen before.
A walk on Park Drive along Merimere Reservoir revealed a series of trees knocked down and some uprooted. Polack estimated about a dozen trees were wiped out, not accounting for the ones that may have fallen onto the road and already cleared.
“It was impressive,” Polack said. “It was just carnage. It was quite a big area ... I’ve seen a tree fall here and a tree there, but that stuff is no big deal. This was something different. Something flattened that area.”
It was likely more than a dozen trees that toppled over near the base of the ridge just to the east of Park Drive and the reservoir. The Parks and Recreation Department cleared a handful of the trees before Polack visited, because they were blocking the road. The cause of the damage remains unclear.
“It was a very impressive act of Mother Nature,” Parks and Recreation Director Mark Zebora said. “I’ve seen trees fall over, but nothing like that.”
The trees fell late into the night July 3 or early July 4 — the same time the area was feeling the impact of what remained of Hurricane Arthur, with some heavy rain and significant wind. A hiker heading toward Castle Craig early the morning of July 4 noticed the downed trees and notified a Parks and Recreation worker preparing the Hubbard Park pool for the day, Zebora said. Wanting to make sure the road was open for the three-day weekend, Zebora called a crew to deal with the downed trees.
“It took about four hours,” Zebora said. “We pushed what we could off the road, but to cut it up and haul it takes time. The road was blocked and there was just a lot of debris.”
Although some wind gusts reached 50 mph in Connecticut, National Weather Service spokesman Tim Morrin said most of the wind was not more than 20 to 30 mph that night.
“In that area, we were not getting reports of winds typically causing that type of damage,” Morrin said.
Morrin speculated that the downed trees could be the result of erosion teamed with heavy, wet leaves and “just enough wind.”
“It could have been similar to a domino effect,” Morrin said. “I can’t even really say, but it’s possible, if there was some severe erosion from the heavy rain and enough wind to take it down.”
Not everyone is sold on the erosion theory, however, including local nature enthusiast Bob Pagini. Last week, Pagini noticed the downed trees. In addition to the trees that fell in different directions, he noticed a clear path where the damage occurred and that limbs were wiped clean off some of the other trees that remained standing.
“It had to have been strong to whip the trees around and break the branches,” Pagini said of the weather event.
Pagini speculated that it could have been some type of tornado that touched down briefly, or a waterspout, another type of intense vortex occurring over water, given the proximity to the reservoir. Polack suggested it could have been a microburst, a small intense downdraft that often occurs during a thunderstorm. They often cause damage similar to tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service website.
Morrin had doubts about it being a microburst or tornado because the weather pattern, including the hurricane, “was not consistent with the summertime thunderstorms or microbursts.” Morrin added that there were no reported tornadoes in the area during that period.