The Brooklyn, NY Tornado of August 8th, 2007
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
& Rain From the West