National Weather Service meteorologists, investigating storm damage in the Bay Ridge area with New York City Emergency Management officials, have confirmed that a tornado did in fact touch down on parts of Brooklyn Wednesday morning.
The tornado's heavy winds, estimated to have been up to 111 to 135 miles per hour, tore through sections of Brooklyn, damaging roughly 40 buildings and downing dozens of trees. Residents in the Bay Ridge, Flatbush and Sunset Park neighborhoods reported damaged houses and hundreds of crushed cars along several blocks.
Meteorologists say the tornado path started in Bay Ridge just after 6:30 a.m. and continued on an east-northeast path across 68th Street between Third and Fourth Avenues. Eleven homes along that part of the tornado’s path suffered moderate to severe roof damage.
The storm continued to move east-northeast into Leif Ericson Park Square, where trees were downed and suffered severe damage.
The storm tore off the roof of a Nissan car dealership at the corner of 66th Street and Fifth Avenue, then returned to the ground farther northeast, causing scattered tree damage along Sixth Avenue.
The tornado then returned to the ground to cause more damage on 58th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, where five homes lost their roofs.
A tornado warning was issued for the area around 6 a.m., but it was unclear until Wednesday evening whether a tornado had in fact touched down.
Residents in the area said it was a terrifying experience.
"I saw a mass of just leaves turning and it was just dark, like a dark mass. I was afraid and I saw the tree come down,” said one resident. “I ran back inside and you could hear the wind. It sounded like a freight train coming through at full speed. It was like Îwhooooomp.’"
"The thunder was not normal. It was like a different thunder you never hear, like a real loud thunder, like Îboom,’ real loud, and lightning, very loud explosions,” said another. “The lightning was crazy."
"I came outside and I [saw] my car with broken windows and dents and trees all over the place. It was a mess,” added a third.
"It started getting really dark,” added another. “The tree in the front of my house started swerving around and around and I thought the windows in my apartment were going to break. And there were about 30 seconds and then it was over."
More than 200 people were displaced, as the Department of Buildings declared many buildings unsafe.
In response to the storm, the New York City Department of Transportation and the Department of Sanitation announced Wednesday that alternate-side parking has been suspended in Brooklyn Community Board zones 7, 10, 12 and 14 Thursday to facilitate storm debris removal. However, parking meters will remain in effect throughout the city.
Additionally, the Taxi and Limousine Commission passed an emergency order Wednesday allowing taxi drivers to charge passengers an additional $5 on top of the metered fare and tolls until the mayor declares the situation over.
While the tornado wreaked havoc in parts of Brooklyn, heavy rains took a significant toll throughout the rest of the city. The mayor said the city's 311 line received 87,000 phone calls between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Wednesday — four times its regular call volume.
The Office of Emergency Management set up a command center in Sunset Park, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the commissioners of multiple city agencies held a briefing Wednesday afternoon
on the storm’s damage.
He confirmed that there was one fatality as a result of the morning's heavy rains.
A car driven by a 23-year-old woman became stuck beneath an underpass on the Staten Island Expressway near Bradley Avenue. She was struck by another car and died from her injuries.
Police arrested the driver of the second car, 58-year-old Yahov Rainshtein of Brooklyn. He was charged with driving with a suspended license.
Bloomberg urged residents to have patience as the city does its best to get things back to normal as soon as possible.
"New Yorkers know that the emergency services are there and our objective is to make sure any more of these things are no more than inconviences," said the mayor. "It's annoying, but as long as they don't hurt anybody or last for a long period of time, then, we, I can't tell you we are satisfied, but that is our objective."
About 1,000 workers from over a dozen city agencies were dispatched to the scene of the tornado to clean up the debris so the Department of Sanitation could come in overnight to sweep it away.
Officers from the Emergency Services Unit cut down trees between 58th and 95th Streets between Second and Sixth Avenues in Brooklyn.
The FDNY had 800 firefighters and EMS personnel responding to storm-related incidents throughout the day; while the NYPD dispatched 70 officers to Sunset Park and Bay Ridge alone. Officers there were guarding badly-damaged buildings and helping out with debris removal, while officers throughout the city helped with crowd control on the subways and provided extra traffic control.
Officials said property damage is expected to be in the millions and possibly tens of millions. They said they will ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency for financial support if possible.
"We have contacted FEMA and told them to stand by at the ready," said Senator Charles Schumer. "Obviously there has to be [additional aid.] The city has to do an assessment and then we'll go to FEMA to see what kind of federal aid we're entitled to, but right now it's almost hard to comprehend that what happened in Kansas and Oklahoma happened in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn."
Many small businesses were also affected. The city says it will work with them to get low interest loans. Anyone who needs help or who has a complaint is advised to call 311.
"If people have had damage to their building they can call 311. They will be directed to the [Department of Buildings] that will begin an assessment for them,” said OEM Commissioner Joseph Bruno. “If people need to relocate because of that damage they will be directed to a combination of public services, Red Cross, to see if they can help them temporarily or provide them with shelter if they need them over a long period of time."
Thursday morning, the Department of Small Business Services will be in Brooklyn to help businesses re-open. It will also offer small grants for storefront improvements.
The DOT added it will inspect reports of twisted signs and downed signals in the five boroughs. DOT officials asked New Yorkers to call 311 to report any traffic signals without power so they can send crews out to repair them within two hours.
The Parks Department urged New Yorkers to call with any information about downed trees.
The mayor says some of the city's beaches could be closed in the coming days, due to runoff from the storm. He says sewage treatment plants were overloaded and some of the runoff may have mixed with sewage. The Department of Health is testing bacteria levels.
The Parks Department had hundreds of workers out cleaning up trees and branches. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said the department has gotten hundreds of calls about downed trees. He also says homeowners should not try to clean up wood themselves.
The storm left a mess in lower Manhattan as well. One SoHo business owner spent the morning cleaning up debris and garbage that was scattered by the storm and high waters.
"The water lines were up to here on the door, you see the water line? Plus my basement is flooded, the basement is flooded, but it's starting to dry off now," said Patrick Fahey, whose family owns a bar in SoHo. "We will be able to handle it, but it is a very, very lousy situation."
Residents say flooding tends to be a common problem in their neighborhood after heavy rains.
The mayor says one street near the World Trade Center site was shut down because of the high waters.
The rains knocked out power to thousands around the city. As of just after 9 p.m. Wednesday, Con Ed said there were still nearly 320 customers throughout the city still without power, down from more than 3,000 earlier in the day. There are 51 customers out in Staten Island; 125 in Brooklyn; 93 in Queens; less than 15 in the Bronx; and 36 in Manhattan. Wednesday morning St. Vincent’s Hospital in Midtown was without power and was running on a generator.
Con Ed urged all customers in Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Clinton Hill, and Bedford-Stuyvesant, west of Throop Avenue to conserve power Wednesday while they work to repair electrical cables damaged by the morning storm.
Residents were advised to turn off all non-essential electrical appliances, like air conditioners and washer/dryers.
City officials say many overhead lines came down and crews are still trying to restore service.
As of Wednesday night, all repairs were finished and Brooklyn residents were allowed to return to normal electricity usage.
Tornadoes are rare in New York City but not unheard of and investigators from the National Weather Service who looked at the damage found the tell-tale evidence of twisted wreckage and a circular debris field.
In the past 27 years the city has had six tornados, but none as strong as today's. In fact NY1 Meteorologist John Davitt could not find any record of a tornado this strong hitting the five boroughs.
A large area of clouds and storms, called a mesoscale convective complex, moved in from the Great Lakes. The large, organized cluster of thunderstorms formed, by individual thunderstorms interacting and feeding off each other to make a large weather system, hundreds of miles wide. These systems can last for hours and travel hundreds of miles. In fact, the system that rocked the city hit Chicago hard on Tuesday morning.
With high temperatures in the forecast, the mayor advised seniors to try to stay indoors with the air conditioning on, if possible, and advised any New Yorkers in need to head to one of the city’s more than 300 cooling centers.
“Let me just caution everybody, please, try to stay indoors if possible. We’ve opened a number of cooling centers. You can call 311 and they will tell you where the cooling centers are," said the mayor. "We are trying to make sure that we talk to all of the senior homes. I would ask everybody — seniors in your neighborhood or infirm people that live by themselves, it is as good a time as any to check in with them this afternoon and just make sure that they are alright.”
Cooling centers are air-conditioned and open to the public. Many senior and community centers like the Goddard Riverside community center on the Upper West Side serve as cooling centers.
Officials say all New Yorkers should drink lots of water, stay out of the sun, and avoid strenuous outdoor activity during the hottest part of the day in order to stay safe.
To find a cooling center near you, or to get a brochure with tips on beating the heat, call 311 or log onto nyc.gov/oem
Wednesday's early-morning storm knocked down trees throughout the city.
Sunset Park Woman Driven From Her Home By Storm