The Brooklyn, NY Tornado of August 8th, 2007  

        by Philip Lutzak August 2007



  A common misconception among New Yorkers, and probably most of the rest of the world, is that tornadoes never occur in New York City. However, while they are not common, they do occur. There have been 6 tornadoes in New York City since 1985, meaning roughly 1 every 4 years in the Big Apple, and for the most part they have been fairly weak, F0 or F1 on the Fujita scale. But that was before this one. The tornado that roared through western sections of Brooklyn on Wednesday morning, August 8th, 2007 was an EF2 (Enhanced Fujita scale), and that is indeed a very rare event for New York City. In modern tornado records (since 1950) it was not only the first tornado to hit the borough of Brooklyn, but the strongest. Fortunately, there were no deaths and only a few minor injuries attributed to the tornado, but damage was heavy (Figures 1a, b and c). It tore the roofs off of 20 buildings and severely damaged more than 70 others. At the time of this writing, total damage estimates are in the tens of millions of dollars.


  As if that weren't enough, the tornado was preceded by a large cluster of heavy to severe thunderstorms that dropped 2.5 to 3.5 inches of rain on the city in less than 2 hours, producing severe flooding. Flash flooding closed down many highways and most of the subway system from the morning rush hour into the afternoon. This wreaked havoc on commuters who were unaware of the size of the disaster until they met cordoned-off subway stations and mob scenes at the bus stops (see Figures 2a and b below). So this tornado was part of a larger severe weather event that effectively shut down New York City's transportation system for a day. The last similar events were in 1999 and 2004, but this was the third time in 2007 that a flooding rain event mired down the city's transit system, leaving many to wonder why these events are occurring more often, and how long it will be until the next one. 


Figure 1a. A neighbor tries to comfort Brooklyn resident Marie Mastellone, who can't bear to look across the street at her Bay Ridge Avenue home. The tornado tore the roof off of it and left it uninhabitable. Courtesy Newsday.




Figure 1b. Severe damage to a house on 62nd Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn by the EF2 tornado. Courtesy NY Daily News.

Figure 1c. Rooftops were ripped off these homes on 58th Street in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Courtesy NY Daily News.



Figure 2a. Commuters, sweating in the sweltering air (75+ degree dewpoints), arrived to find closed subway stations throughout the city. When told to use the buses, figure 2b at right shows what happened. Courtesy Newsday.

Figure 2b. When commuters arrived at the bus stops, they were greeted with large crowds, long lines, and most buses too overcrowded to take any more passengers. Many commuters finally gave up and went home. Courtesy NY Daily News.


  The bulk of this report will cover the reasons why the tornado and flash flooding occurred. But before we proceed, one other unusual aspect of this tornado should be mentioned: while it occurred in one of the most heavily populated areas of the world, a county with 2.5 million people, or 35,000 people per square mile, no one captured it on video, or even got a photograph. This was most likely because it happened at 6:30AM, and was on the ground for no more than a minute in any particular location. Many people were still asleep, and those that were awake were getting ready for work but probably not aware that a tornado was approaching. The NWS warning was issued at 6:28AM, and in Brooklyn the tornado touched down at 6:30, not giving much lead time. Those eyewitnesses who saw the approaching tornado wisely ran back indoors for cover, and by the time anyone grabbed a camera, it was long gone.  



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