Storm punches N.J. with barrage of M&M-sized hail, destructive wind, fiery lightning

A line of earth-shaking thunderstorms quickly turned day to night in New Jersey early Tuesday evening, sparking numerous fires, felling countless trees, stranding frightened commuters and leaving thousands without power as it sped southeast across the state.

The damaging outbreak of soaking rain, destructive wind and scary lightning moved in from the northwest shortly before 5 p.m. As it did, Tuesday’s bright sun quickly gave way to damaging winds, dark skies and drenching rain that almost immediately knocked out power to much of Sussex and Warren counties.

Several lightning strikes were reported in Sillwater, in Sussex County, leading to structure fires, a 67 mph wind gust was logged in Lebanon and half-inch hail (which the National Weather Service terms “M&M-sized”) pelted Wantage, according to preliminary reports.

As the storm raced across the state, news of damage were almost too widespread to track, as reports of trees into houses and across roads, and homes struck by lightning poured in.

Trees were reportedly down on major roadways around the northern portion of the state as commuters set out for a brutal evening trek home. NJ Transit began closing lines as rails became impassable. The transit agency posted a photo showing trees down across the tracks near Little Falls blocking the Montclair Boonton Line. 

Emergency crews rushed to a stretch of Route 46 in Clifton after what appeared to be a power line came down and sparked a fire near a Chevrolet dealership.

Video posted on Twitter and Facebook showed the fire burning as police blocked one side of the highway.

In Maywood, the storm downed a tree and two utility poles, leaving one pole resting against a house and leading to a fire, according to police Chief David Pegg.

“An electrical primary wire came in contact with the aluminum gutter, energizing the metal,” chief said. “A fire then started at the roof line.”

Once utility crews cut the power, firefighters doused the blaze on Grove Avenue, Pegg added. 

Officials reported a downed tree blocking the right lane on I-287 southbound near Exit 39 in Hanover. There were also lane closures on Route 17 northbound in Saddle River and the ramp to Exit 163 off the southbound Garden State Parkway in Paramus.

Route 208 was closed in Wyckoff near Grandview Avenue because of a fallen tree. In Essex County, Bloomfield police were responding to several reports of downed tree limbs and power lines, including on the Garden State Parkway. 

Newton police Chief Michael Richards said about 10 trees fell onto roads, houses or cars and part of a roof on Spring Street was blown off a building and landed in a parking lot in the town. There were no reported injures in the approximately 3-square mile town.

“It just sort of swept in,” Richards said of the storm.

West Caldwell police had a blunt message for residents, “Stay Home,” the department said in a Facebook post.

Rutherford police warned residents to stay indoors until the weather cleared as authorities responded to storm damage.

“Please stay inside until this storm passes. We are seeing full trees coming down throughout town,” the department said in a social media post.

Cranford police said there were “multiple trees down” near the Kenilworth line.

Gov. Phil Murphy was monitoring the storm after being briefed by top officials, his office said. The governor remained concerned about the impacts of any flash flooding, isolated tornadoes and localized hail, and was prepared to deploy state resources as needed.

Noah Cohen may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @noahycFind on Facebook.


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