Rare tornadoes hit New York City during powerful storms

Breezy Point Surf Club was damaged by a tornado in New York, Sept. 8 (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)as a powerful line of storms swept through the area Saturday morning. The same line of storms may have spawned a tornado in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., leaving thousands without power.

The first tornado touched down at around 11:10 a.m., forming as a waterspout off the shore of Rockaway Peninsula. It then moved onshore, tearing through over half a kilometre of the Queens neighborhood of Breezy Point, knocking down trees and utility poles, overturning cars, and littering streets and yards with debris. According to the U.S. National Weather Service, the tornado registered winds of up to 70 miles per hour (113 km/h), which would classify it as an EF0 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita Scale of tornado intensity.

The Breezy Point Surf Club suffered damage as the tornado tore the roofs off cabanas, scattered deck chairs and deposited a propane barbecue in the centre of a softball field.

Caitlin Walsh, 24, an employee at the Club, said the tornado "took everything into the air" as she and her co-workers watched from inside. "We were all scared," she said. "The windows on the whole building broke, the lights went out, and the rain was pouring in. Everything was shaking. It was really crazy."

[ Related: See photos of the New York tornadoes ]

The second, stronger twister touched down about 10 minutes later in Canarsie, Brooklyn, with wind speeds of up to 110 miles per hour (180 km/h), putting it at the top of the EF1 category. It travelled for almost a kilometre before dissipating, blowing out store windows, ripping off tree branches (one of which went right through the windshield of a parked car), and damaging a few houses.

The National Weather Service had issued a Tornado Watch for much of the day in connection with the line of storms, upgrading that to a Tornado Warning at around 10:30 a.m., which is an indication that either a tornado is on the ground, or conditions are ideal for tornado formation. The Warning was cancelled as of 11:30 a.m.

Until recent years, tornadoes have been fairly rare in New York City, with only six confirmed between 1974 and 2006. Another five have been added since then with the strongest tornado to ever hit New York City on Aug. 8, 2007, one in the Bronx on July 25, 2010, and one hitting Brooklyn and Queens on Sept. 16, 2010, and now the two on Saturday.

Are more twisters reaching N.Y.C. due to climate change or is it just a fluke? It's tempting to point the finger at climate change, but it's really too early to tell. We'll need at least a few more years of seeing tornadoes in New York City before we can start making conclusions.

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There were unconfirmed reports of tornadoes in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. due to this same line of storms. Downed trees caused power outages to thousands of homes, as well as a few house cave-ins and the evacuation of a small apartment building.

No injuries were reported from either N.Y.C. tornado, but one person suffered minor injuries due to a partial stage collapse at the Rosslyn Jazz Festival in Arlington County, Virginia, and four people were killed, including one child, in Oklahoma City as these storms moved through the area on Friday.

Environment Canada has issued a Rainfall Warning to Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Prince Edward Island and mainland Nova Scotia due to this same line of storms, warning of up to 75 millimetres of rainfall by Monday night.