York Suburban business teacher John Beach and his son drove to Paradise Township in Lancaster County on Friday to participate in a youth baseball game.
They never expected the 100 mph object blowing past them that night would be an EF1-class tornado that collapsed a structure on top of them and caused more than a dozen injuries.
"You go to a baseball game and you live through a tornado," Beach, 52, said.
His son's Keystone Nationals team was abruptly caught in the middle of a fierce storm that caused $5-7 million dollars in damage, according to estimates by the Lancaster County Emergency Management Agency.
It all started very innocently. The Nationals, which include three York County players, were set to play a 12-and-under game at the park, with only a forecast of light rain to be worried about.
"If somebody would've told me an hour before the storm hit that within an hour there was going to be tornado in Lancaster County, I would've said no way. It wasn't that kind of weather," said agency director Randy Gockley.
Beach, a Red Lion resident, said the lights at the park turned off around 8 p.m., but came back on shortly after.
"It started raining heavier. But you still think about playing baseball," he said.
There was no lightning in the immediate area or indication of what was to come, he said. But then the lights went back out, the wind started blowing sideways, and "you started thinking this was serious."
The teams ran under a neighboring structure often used by the Amish to house horses and buggies, as there wasn't enough time to get to cars or other structures.
"Our head coach said get down. And within five seconds you heard that train whistle you hear about," Beach said.
The train whistle was a 100-plus mph tornado that originated in the Fern Glen area and blasted through a 16 mile-long narrow swath of Lancaster County farmland before collapsing the building that housed a couple dozen wet, frightened 8- to 13-year-old boys [ash: age confirmed: ]and their coaches.
Beach said about five of the adults were holding up part of the wall, unbeknownst to them, as one of the them with a military background helped organize the perilous situation and assess injuries.
One adult suffered broken ribs, another a broken leg, and another a laceration to the head that required 50 stitches, Beach said; he was able to avoid injury. His son and the other boys mostly suffered bumps and bruises. Eleven injuries caused by the storm resulted in people being transported to Lancaster General Hospital, but none were life-threatening, Gockley said.
"We feel very lucky that was it," he said, considering all the youth sports going on that night. "It came so suddenly, without warning. It put people in a very difficult situation."
Beach said he wonders how the boys and coaches will respond in the future after getting through the harrowing ordeal. What will happen the next time they see a storm, he said.
But for now, he's just glad they all came through relatively unscathed.
"It could've been a heck of a lot worse," Beach said.
- Reach Andrew Shaw at email@example.com