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NYC Hazards: Tornadoes


While tornadoes occur in many parts of the world, they are found most frequently in the United States. Tornadoes account for an average of 65 fatalities and 1,500 injuries nationwide each year. Tornadoes are typically spawned by powerful thunderstorms, but sometimes accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land. Most tornado-related damage results from wind velocity and wind-blown debris, as well as large hail.

Tornadoes and NYC

Though generally associated with the central United States, tornadoes occasionally occur in New York City. Such events can occur with little or no warning.

  • On September 8, 2012, a tornado occurred in Queens and Brooklyn, yielded by an isolated severe storm in the morning. A combined waterspout event, the tornado originated as a waterspout about 1 mile south of the tip of Breezy Point, Queens, and came onshore as an EF0 tornado in Rockaway Beach. Eventually, the waterspout made landfall as an EF1 tornado in Brooklyn, damaging the neighborhood of Canarsie.
  • On August 28, 2011, a weak F0 tornado was confirmed in Cunningham Park, Queens, according to a National Weather Service Storm Survey. This weak tornado was spawned by a rotating thunderstorm within a spiral rain band rotating around then Hurricane Irene several hours before it made landfall in New York City.
  • On September 16, 2010, two tornadoes ripped through New York City — an EF0 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and an EF1 in the Bayside area of Queens. Learn about the EF0, EF1, and macroburst that tore through the city
  • On July 25, 2010, an EF1 tornado touched down in the Bronx.
  • On August 8, 2007, numerous thunderstorms produced two tornadoes across southern New York City. An EF2 tornado touched down in Brooklyn during a severe thunderstorm, and an EF1 tornado occurred in Staten Island just prior to the EF2 tornado in Brooklyn.
  • An F0 tornado and a "gustnado" occurred in Staten Island's Bullshead and Willowbrook areas on October 27, 2003, during a severe thunderstorm.
  • An intense F1 tornado struck Staten Island again in October 1995, causing some property damage, but no injuries.
  • In August 1990, an F0 tornado struck Staten Island, injuring three people.
  • In October 1985, an F1 tornado touched down in Queens, injuring six people.

National Weather Service Terms

  • TORNADO: A violently rotating column of air, usually pendant to a cumulonimbus, with circulation reaching the ground. It nearly always starts as a funnel cloud and may be accompanied by a loud roaring noise. On a local scale, it is the most destructive of all atmospheric phenomena.
  • "GUSTNADO": A gustnado is a small, whirlwind which forms as an eddy in thunderstorm outflows. They do not connect with any cloud-base rotation and are not tornadoes. Since their origin is associated with cumuliform clouds, gustnadoes will be classified as Thunderstorm Wind events. Like dust devils, some stronger gustnadoes can cause damage.
  • TORNADO WATCH: Issued when conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes in and close to the watch area. Their size can vary depending on the weather situation. They are usually issued for a duration of 4 to 8 hours. They normally are issued well in advance of the actual occurrence of severe weather.
  • TORNADO WARNING: Issued when a tornado is indicated by radar or sighted by storm spotters.

Enhanced Fujita Scale

On February 1, 2007, the National Weather Service updated the Fujita Scale in an effort to more accurately classify tornadoes and the damage they cause across the country. The Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale measures the wind speeds and resultant damage of tornadoes based on 28 damage indicators and six classes of wind speeds.

Wind Speed (mph)
Typical Damage
65 - 85
Light. Broken branches, shallow-rooted trees knocked down
86 - 110
Moderate. Surface of roofs peeled off; mobile homes pushed off foundations
111 - 135
Considerable. Mobile homes destroyed; large trees snapped or uprooted; objects become projectiles; cars lifted
136 - 165
Severe. Some roofs and walls torn off well constructed houses; most trees uprooted; heavy cars lifted and thrown
166 - 200
Devastating. Well-constructed houses leveled; structures blown off foundations; cars thrown and large projectiles generated
Incredible. Strong frame houses leveled off foundations; automobiles fly in excess of 100 meters; trees debarked

What to Do if a Tornado Strikes

  • Go to your basement or the lowest point of your residence. If an underground shelter is not available, move to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and get under a sturdy piece of furniture. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.
  • Stay away from windows.
  • Get out of automobiles.
  • Do not try to outrun a tornado in your car; leave it immediately for safe shelter.
  • If you cannot find shelter, take cover in a ditch or other recessed area and cover your head with your hands. Do NOT take cover under an overpass or bridge.
  • Be aware of flying debris.
  • Mobile homes offer little protection from tornadoes. Leave a mobile home and go to the lowest floor of a nearby building or storm shelter.
  • Avoid places with wide-span roofs, such as auditoriums, cafeterias, large hallways, or shopping malls.

Preparing for a Tornado

  • Designate an area in your home to take shelter in the event of a tornado as part of your Household Disaster Plan.
  • Assemble an Emergency Supply Kit.
  • Stay tuned to your local radio and television stations for the latest storm information.
  • Know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning.
  • Learn tornado danger signs:
    • An approaching cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible.
    • Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still.
    • Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.

After the Storm

  • Watch out for fallen power lines and stay away from damaged areas.
  • Listen to the radio for information and instructions.
  • Help injured or trapped persons; give first aid when appropriate.
  • Don't try to move the seriously injured unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.
  • If you smell gas, do not turn on any appliances or switches. This includes using phones, flashlights, or a cell phone.
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline, or other flammable liquids immediately. Leave the buildings if you smell gas or chemical fumes.
  • Take pictures of the damage — both to your home and its contents — for insurance purposes.

More Resources
Are You Ready for a Tornado? (Red Cross)
Tornado Fact Sheet (FEMA)

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