N.J. weather: Multiple tornadoes may have slammed state during powerful thunderstorms


UPDATE: After 12 tornado warnings, at least 2 likely touched down. More under investigation.

The National Weather Service says it’s possible as many as three or four tornadoes may have touched down in different parts of New Jersey during a wave of powerful thunderstorms Thursday night, but they won’t know for certain until they inspect the damage on Friday.

One suspected tornado struck Mercer County Thursday night, leaving power outages, flooding and downed trees, while a second suspected twister touched down in the Lakehurst area of Ocean County, according to the National Weather Service’s regional office in Mount Holly.

Weather service meteorologist Dean Iovino said his office is planning to survey as many as four areas of the Garden State on Friday to check out the damage and determine if it was indeed caused by tornadoes or if they were funnel clouds that never touched down.

In addition to the Hopewell and Trenton areas of Mercer County, the weather service is interested in surveying damage in the Lakehurst area of Ocean County, the Barnegat Township and Harvey Cedars area in Ocean County, and the Willingboro and Mount Holly region of Burlington County, Iovino told NJ Advance Media.

The office also plans to check at least two locations in Bucks County in eastern Pennsylvania, including one where witnesses reported seeing a tornado on the ground — the one that appeared to head towards Mercer County, Iovino said.

The weather service issued 12 tornado warnings throughout the evening in New Jersey, plus three in Pennsylvania and Delaware, as a slew of powerful thunderstorms slammed the region.

Mercer County spokeswoman Julie Willmot said the county had at least 1,000 customers without power in the Hopewell Valley area. There were trees down near Pleasant Valley Road and at least one vehicle unoccupied was hit by a fallen tree. There were no immediate reports of any injuries.

“We are asking people to stay indoors, go to the lowest level of the building they are in, and stay off the roads until damage can be assessed,” Willmot said.

The National Weather Service said witnesses saw a tornado touch down near the Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, which is part of the Mount Holly office’s coverage area. However, the weather service won’t be able to confirm that tornado — or any others — until it can survey the storm damage, according to meteorologist Sarah Johnson.

Johnson also said hail as large as a half-dollar, about 1 1/4 inches in diameter, was falling outside the weather service office in Burlington County Thursday evening. The weather service also received a report of hail as large as a ping pong ball, about 1 1/2 inches wide, in Willingboro.

A tornado warning was issued for parts of Burlington, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Monmouth counties, until 6:45 p.m., with the National Weather Service describing it as “a large and extremely dangerous tornado,” located over Washington Crossing, about 9 miles northwest of Trenton.

“This is a particularly dangerous situation. Take cover now!” the weather service said in its warning. “You are in a life-threatening situation.”

At about 8:15 p.m., the weather service saw strong indications of a tornado on radar over the Lakehurst area and referred to it as a “confirmed tornado” in a warning it issued. That was the eighth tornado warning issued across the state on Thursday.

Weather Service officials said while surveying the damage, they’ll look to determine the direction of any debris.

If there is debris spread out in different directions, that would indicate rotating winds from a tornado, but if the debris was blown in the same direction, it would be a sign of straight-line winds from a strong thunderstorm.

New Jersey is no stranger to tornadoes of late, with three small twisters confirmed so far this year — all during the month of July.

Two tornadoes touched down in the Garden State as Tropical Storm Elsa brushed the Shore region during the early-morning hours on July 9 — one in Woodbine in Cape May County and one in Little Egg Harbor Township in Ocean County.

A tornado touched down in northern Burlington County on July 17 during a cluster of violent thunderstorms that swept through New Jersey that night. The tornado had an EF-1 rating, with estimated peak winds of 80 to 90 mph, the weather service determined.

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Chris Sheldon may be reached at [email protected]. Len Melisurgo may be reached at [email protected]. Noah Cohen may be reached at [email protected]