Tornadoes touch down in western Massachusetts

CONWAY, Mass Wed Jun 1, 2011 7:30pm EDT

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CONWAY, Mass (Reuters) - A tornado touched down in heavily populated western Massachusetts on Wednesday, causing widespread damage, authorities said, as the Northeast braced for a barrage of thunderstorms, hail and high winds.

An official tornado watch was in effect from the Philadelphia area to northern Maine near the Canadian border until early evening, the National Weather Service said.

The tornado touched down at about 4:30 p.m. in Springfield, the third largest city in the state, it said.

"There was a tornado on the ground and reports of widespread damage in Hampden, Massachusetts, and also reports of damage in Springfield," said NWS spokesman Chris Vaccaro.

Much of the damage was in Springfield's South End neighborhood near Interstate 91 and the Connecticut River.

Heavy winds could be seen churning the Connecticut River and hail, heavy rain and thunder hammered the area.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

A second tornado hit at about 6:20 p.m. in north Springfield, according to Massachusetts State Police. No further details were immediately available.

Parts of the region also were under a thunderstorm watch that threatened to bring hail and wind gusts as strong as 70 miles per hour.

The severe weather was the result of colder air clashing with warm, humid weather that has produced some record temperatures for early June through much of the Mid-Atlantic, meteorologists said.

A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms that could spawn tornadoes, damaging winds, hail and dangerous lightning, said Charlie Foley, NWS meteorologist in Taunton, Massachusetts.

"The atmosphere across most of New England, with the exception of Cape Cod and the islands, is favorable for severe weather," he said.

New England sees, on average, two or three tornadoes per year, Foley said.

"They are rare, but not unique," he said.

Noticeably cooler and less humid weather was forecast for the Northeast on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Lauren Keiper in Boston; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Greg McCune and Ellen Wulfhorst)

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