May 31, 1998 – perhaps one of the most significant days in Albany weather history. Many likely remember it like yesterday. This was the first and only time that the Capital Region was highlighted in a high risk for severe weather. The area was prepared for severe weather. Another round of severe weather came two days prior. This outbreak was an extreme severe event by Northeast standards.

May 31, 1998 severe timeline

12 PM: Special Weather Statement issued highlighting “this is a dangerous situation.”

2:45 PM: Tornado Watch issued for most of New York.

4:22 – 4:55 PM: Mechanicville tornado

4:37 – 4:41 PM: Tornado near Albany International Airport

7:22 – 7:32 PM: Schodack tornado

A squall line raced through the Mohawk Valley into the Hudson Valley during the late afternoon hours of May 31st. Damaging winds were reported area-wide. Tree were brought down, structures were heavily damaged and destroyed, crops were lost. The day produced three tornadoes in the Capital Region including a brief F-1 near the Albany International Airport, a F-2 in Schodack, and the infamous F-3 that started in southern Saratoga County.

The strongest tornado of the day touched down before 4:30 PM near Ushers Road in Halfmoon. The twister quickly intensified as it moved in Mechanicville. How did this supercell quickly become tornadic and stronger? Researchers say our topography played a big role.

An area of increased helicity (“twisting”) and wind shear developed as the west-east moving squall line met up with strong southerly winds channeled through the Hudson Valley. Twisting favors tornado development. And Mechanicville was the point of ignition.

Numerous homes and businesses in Mechanicville were either destroyed or heavily damaged, including DiSiena Furniture and De Crescente Distributing. The tornado crossed the Hudson River and continued into northern Rensselaer County. The track skipped a bit between Millertown and Hoosick. More damage associated with a F-1 was seen outside Bennington. The broken track covered over 30 miles spanning the three counties. 70 people were injured but no one died.

This was the first and only time since that our area has been placed in a “high risk” for severe weather by the forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center. There were more than 400 storm reports with a total of 33 tornadoes. 20 of the day’s twisters were within two hours of Albany. The extensive wind damage including a 100 mph microburst in Easton, Washington County. Downed trees led to multi-day, widespread power outages. The lightning was prolific and even sparked a few house fires.