In New York, the first tornado struck Breezy Point on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. The second, stronger tornado hit the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, around 10 minutes after the first.
Videos taken by bystanders in New York showed a funnel cloud sucking up water, then sand, and then small pieces of buildings.
Later Saturday, Meteorologist Andy Woodcock of the National Weather Service said tornado-like funnel clouds were reported near the nation’s capital, in Chantilly, in Fairfax County, Va., and in Prince George’s County, Md. The weather service hasn’t confirmed they were tornadoes, though the storms have left thousands without electricity.
“These storms are capable of producing hail up to the size of quarters and destructive winds in excess of 70 mph,” the Weather Service said. As of early Saturday evening, nearly 110,000 customers were without electricity in northern Virginia, according to Dominion Electric. Pepco was reporting outages to roughly 60,000 customers in the District of Columbia and Maryland’s Prince George‘s and Montgomery counties. BGE was reporting nearly 20,000 outages, most in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties. More than 1,100 customers lost power in New York City.
As in the New York area, residents had advance notice. In New York, the Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for Queens and Brooklyn at around 10:40 a.m. The storm took people by surprise anyway when it struck about 20 minutes later.
“I was showing videos of tornadoes to my 4-year-old on my phone, and two minutes later, it hit,” said neighborhood resident Peter Maloney. “Just like they always say, it sounded like a train.”
In the storm’s wake, the community of seaside bungalows was littered with broken flower pots, knocked-down fences and smashed windows.
At the Breezy Point Surf Club, a tornado ripped the roofs off rows of cabanas, scattered deck chairs and left a heavy metal barbecue and propane tank sitting in the middle of a softball field, at least 100 yards from any nearby home.
“It picked up picnic benches. It picked up Dumpsters,” said the club’s general manager, Thomas Sullivan.
Half an hour later the weather was beautiful, but he had to close the club to clean up the damage.
The tornado struck as part of a line of storms that were expected to bring damaging winds, hail, heavy rain and possibly more tornadoes throughout the mid-Atlantic and Northeast on Saturday. Across New York state, in Buffalo, strong winds from a broad front of thunderstorms blew roofing off of some buildings and sent bricks falling into the street.
The storm system killed four people, including a child, in Oklahoma on Friday.
Radar data, video and witness reports confirmed that the cyclone that hit New York City was a tornado, National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Hofmann said. He said an inspection team would assess the damage before estimating the strength of the storm. Hofmann said some witnesses were reporting that the wind had been strong enough to lift cars off the pavement.
Lizann Maher, a worker at Kennedy’s Restaurant at the edge of Jamaica Bay, said she saw a “swirling cone kind of thing with something flying in it” come down and then head back out into the water toward Brooklyn.
“It was scary. We have all glass so we kept saying, ‘Get away from the glass!’ just in case it did come back around,” she said.
The storm delayed play at the U.S. Open tennis tournament a few miles away.
Tornadoes were once exceedingly rare in New York, but they have occurred with regularity in recent years. A small tornado uprooted trees on Long Island last month. In 2010, a September storm spawned two tornadoes that knocked down thousands of trees and blew off a few rooftops in Brooklyn and Queens. A small tornado struck the same year in the Bronx. In 2007, a more powerful tornado damaged homes in Brooklyn and Staten Island.
In the D.C. area, there were reports of malfunctioning traffic lights and downed trees and power lines as thunder, heavy rains and winds approaching 60 mph struck the region.
In Prince George’s County, emergency officials were attending to about a dozen people who, as the storm arrived, made a panicked rush for the exits at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, said Mark Brady, a spokesman for the county fire and emergency management agency. Three people were being taken to the hospital for what appeared to be non-life-threatening injuries at a county fair.
In northern Virginia, one person suffered minor injuries during a partial stage collapse at the Rosslyn Jazz Festival, a fire department spokesman said.
In D.C., there were reports of about 10 downed trees, including one that came down on a Southeast apartment building undergoing construction, said Christopher Geldart, the district’s emergency management director. Six people had to be evacuated from the building. There were no reports of major flooding, he said.
Fairfax County officials reported three home cave-ins because of downed trees, a water rescue in the Potomac River and dozens of down electrical wires, said Dan Schmidt, a fire department spokesman.
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