Jesse Ferrell

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Radar, Videos, Hoaxes: Another NYC Tornado, Or Not?

September 17, 2010; 7:12 AM ET

UPDATE 9/21: There is a video on YouTube that appears to show a funnel cloud, though it didn't appear to touch down so it was probably not the tornadoes the NWS confirmed.

UPDATE 9/18: The NWS has confirmed two tornadoes inside a wide straight-line wind area.

There's a lot of talk about a "tornado" in New York City yesterday, even though I haven't seen any pictures of it (other than one from 1976 that was falsely circulated on Twitter and fooled Time Magazine) or this one that combines a storm from Kansas with a winter photo of the statue of liberty. This probably means that there wasn't one. As I've said before, the public believes that any strong wind must be a tornado, while in reality most strong winds are just straight-line.

What most people don't understand is that winds of more than 80 mph do as much or more damage than a tornado (which start out around the same wind speeds). Here's the best video that I've seen of the storm coming in, it was quite an impressive "wall" of rain and wind - like something you'd see out west.

In this article, we are saying the radar indicated winds of 109 mph. I believe that was based on the radar image below which shows that as the value for "gate-to-gate shear" where you take the wind speed towards and away from the radar and add them together (as this source suggests we should).

There is rotation indicated by this velocity couplet, but there's no way to tell from this image if it reached the ground or not. Even if winds were over 100 mph, remember this is 3000 feet or so up in the sky (because the radar's lowest angle spreads upward from the dome, which is located on eastern Long Island). As a result, the Emergency Manager's claim of 80 mph winds is probably close to reality. Here's what the standard radar picture looked like at the same time as the shot above (download all radar images):

In any case, it did plenty of damage to trees (one person was killed when one fell on their car) and... pools as you can see from the Facebook photo below courtesy Sean F.

Will it be determined that it was a tornado or straight line winds? There's no way to know until the National Weather Service completes their investigation today. My guess is it will be straight line winds for most of the damage, but there could have been a small tornado embedded (like there was back in June with the event in southeastern Pennsylvania).

There was plenty of lightning in the storm - here's a 2-hour lightning strike shot:

How many tornadoes have struck the city in the past? It depends on who you ask. The county stats can be found on (1950-1995) and on NCDC (1950-2009). WikiPedia lists 5 twisters in the city proper, and makes note of the 1889 Brooklyn tornado which was the last before 2007's F2.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or


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Jesse Ferrell
Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog covers extreme weather worldwide with a concentration on weather photos and Social Media.