THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
A PATH OF DESTRUCTION

Schoolchildren on bus treated to scary spectacle

For the Hanover teens, twister too close for comfort

By L. Finch
Globe Correspondent / June 2, 2011

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A large black cloud was spinning in the air yesterday above Nina Slowey and Ceara Mclaughlin, both 14, as they traveled on a bus down the Massachusetts Turnpike just before 5 p.m. with the rest of the Hanover Middle School chorus and band, returning from a day trip at Six Flags New England in Agawam.

The students on the bus began to take notice, pointing out the windows at the ominous stain on the skyline.

Some recognized the formation as a funnel cloud. Most did not believe it would actually birth a tornado, Slowey and Mclaughlin said. Not in Massachusetts.

But the dark funnel cloud came closer to the ground, thinning out and whipping up dirt as it neared.

Students pulled out their cellphones and tried to call and text their parents to alert them to what was happening. But for whatever reason — poor reception in a storm or overworked cellphone towers — most calls could not be completed.

The twister finally touched down and made its way onto the highway about 20 feet from them, the girls said. Their bus, one of four carrying the students, came to a stop.

“A couple of people cried; some were screaming and freaking out,’’ said Slowey, who added that the bus was near the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield at the time. “Everyone was coming around and hugging everyone. I’m a little bit shaken. It was really scary.’’

A handful of cars in the tornado’s path quickly backed up, letting the twister cross over the roadway, they said. It rent apart the roof of a house on the other side of the Pike, sending shingles into the air, and then spun into a wooded area, snapping trees as it went. Then the tornado journeyed up a hill and disappeared into the distance.

“I was stunned; I was really shocked,’’ Mclaughlin said. “I never thought that kind of stuff would ever happen around here. But it was really cool at the same time. I was thinking I’m probably never going to see anything like this again.’’

The bus continued back to Hanover, accompanied by hail, heavy rain, and jagged forks of lightning, but without incident, to the relief of the students and their worried parents, the girls said.

L. Finch can be reached at lfinch@globe.com.