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Storms batter state with hail, high winds

Richard Temple of Hopkinton held a handful of the pea-sized hail that fell on his lawn yesterday. Richard Temple of Hopkinton held a handful of the pea-sized hail that fell on his lawn yesterday. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Milton J. Valencia and John Guilfoil
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / July 9, 2009
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HOPKINTON - Talk about going out with a bang. With clear skies forecast to arrive as soon as tonight, the recent stormy weather left with a tornado warning, golf-ball-sized hail, and winds that reached 80 miles per hour yesterday afternoon, a final blow to an already battered region.

As violent storms struck much of the state yesterday, Boston’s western suburbs seemed to be hit the hardest over the past two days.

“We’re still cleaning up, and we’ll be cleaning up for a week if not much longer,’’ said Peter Sellers, director of the Framingham Department of Public Works.

In the latest assault by Mother Nature, a supercell, the highest category thunder and lightning storm, tore off tree limbs and blew debris along the Interstate 495 corridor yesterday afternoon, beginning in Hopkinton and crawling toward Taunton before heading east and out to sea. More storms battered Eastern Massachusetts during the night.

The worst of it was in the afternoon. The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the Hopkinton area and then a severe thunderstorm warning for the Taunton area. The agency had no evidence of a tornado, but sent crews to check conditions in the suburbs west of Boston. They did find high winds and strong rain.

In Hopkinton, hail collected on grass like snow, trees snapped and blocked streets, and debris was strewn about in what seemed like a line that ran parallel to I-495.

“The rain was bouncing off the ground,’’ said Dan DeCristofaro, 18, of Hopkinton, who was out playing basketball and was forced to run for shelter in a nearby pizza shop.

Authorities reported no serious injuries, although a 27-year-old man was startled and fell to the ground when lightning snapped a large tree on High Street in Milford around 4 p.m. The man, who was not identified, was taken to a local hospital for observation, but did not suffer serious injuries, said Fire Lieutenant Michael Ballou.

Safety officials were busy yesterday with phone calls reporting flooded basements, downed trees, and lots of debris.

“We knew at one point that we’d be going out the door, and sure enough we started getting the calls, one after another,’’ said Lieutenant William Lukey of the Hopkinton Fire Department. “We got hit with them.’’

Residents reported seeing dark skies just before the storm arrived, and some said the wind was so strong and the hail so large that it could have been just as powerful as a tornado.

Yesterday’s storm only added to the troubles communities have faced over the past week, as the rains have swelled ponds and streams. Streets are flooding, clogging storm drains and leading to more flooding, and rainwater is seeping into basements and buildings. In Hopkinton, rain leaked into Town Hall.

In Framingham, one of the town’s sewer pumping stations started to overflow, forcing officials to bring in trucks to pump the sewage elsewhere.

“It has caused us quite a bit of problems,’’ said Sellers, the public works director, estimating the town may have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on damages. He also said the weather the region has faced has halted construction projects that were set to begin, costing the town more money.

In a positive development, residents seem to have learned to live with the tough weather. Just hours after the storm, people were out walking dogs, playing basketball, and heading into shops and restaurants.

“We’ve been through it before; we’re certainly used to the rain, aren’t we?’’ said Mansfield Deputy Fire Chief James Puleo.

Hopefully, it will be over soon. The National Weather Service predicts a high pressure system will move into the area tonight, meaning no rain.

“That ought to keep things quiet,’’ said Rebecca Gould, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “Friday’s looking like a real nice day.’’