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Number of tornado warnings in NY on Wednesday was near unprecedented

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It was a near-unprecedented day for tornado warnings in New York on July 10, with more than 45 alerts issued around the state.

The first warning was issued within minutes of noon, but new warnings were still being fired off into the evening as the remnants of tropical cyclone Beryl traversed New York. As the storms reached the North Country, concerns shifted from damaging winds to flash floods, capping a dangerous and destructive weather day in the Northeast.

Tornado sightings, danger precede official count

Two of the tornadoes seen in shocking social media posts have been confirmed by the National Weather Service in Buffalo, one started in the town of Eden in Erie County and another that started in the town of Arkwright in Chautauqua County.

The Chautauqua County tornado was rated as an EF1 on the enhanced Fujita scale, with an estimated peak wind of 110 mph, according to the Weather Service. It traveled 3 miles, reaching a maximum width of 150 yards.

The tornado caused increasing damage along its path, impacting roofs and trees as it cut northeast toward the Town of Hanover. Multiple structures along Prospect Road experienced roof failure and an entire grove of hardwood trees were either uprooted or snapped off fully.

The Eden tornado carved a path 75 yards wide with an estimated peak wind of 85 mph, causing damage to trees along Gary Drive and Sauer Road. The damage included uprooting trees onto multiple buildings along the swath.

“We’ve got roofs that are blown off, we’ve got barns that are destroyed,” state Commissioner of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Jackie Bray said. “We’ve got an RV that’s flipped literally 180 degrees, lying on its hood.”

The state is working to confirm not only the total number of tornadoes but also estimates of the damage.

Some tornado warnings were issued due to radar detecting rotation in the clouds rather than actual tornadoes. Some preliminary storm reports from the Weather Service confirm thunderstorm damages including downed power lines, but no tornado specific damage by early Wednesday evening.

More: Destructive storms, reported tornadoes sweep through upstate NY. See the damage

Notable tornado days in New York

Another day rife with tornado warnings in New York was May 31, 1998, when there were 41.

On that date, a line of storms over the Great Lakes region spawned 13 confirmed tornadoes, including four EF3 twisters. Only one touched down in Western New York, an EF1 near Brocton, Chautauqua County, that destroyed or damaged several structures including a hangar, outbuildings for a fertilizer plant and several mobile homes. 

On Aug. 7, 2023, there were seven tornadoes statewide, with one Lewis County twister estimated at an enhanced Fujita rating of 3. The tornado damaged homes, barns, trees, the Snow Ridge Ski Resort and a motel. It traveled 16 miles and caused $1.5 million in property damage.

New York sees an average of about seven tornadoes each year; there have been 514 tornadoes between January 1950 and March 2024.

Tornado preparation

Forecasters had warned about the possibility of tornadoes when the Beryl remnants arrived in New York, though Bray acknowledged deploying resources can be more difficult under a near-statewide tornado watch rather than a lake effect snowstorm.

“These are events where you’ve got 15 minutes warning and that’s a different ballgame for us,” she said.  

In addition to contact with county emergency managers, Bray said the state had about 4,000 state Department of Transportation and New York State Thruway Authority workers on-call to clear debris, close roads and reopen them safely. Another 5,000 utility line workers were out restoring power to thousands of customers who lost power during the storms.

One of the most common things Bray was asked about today was what to do in a tornado. Best practices include securing yourself in an interior room away from windows or seek shelter if outside, driving or in a mobile home. 

“I think in so many places that get tornadoes, people instinctively know what to do similar to the way upstate New Yorkers know what to do in snow or folks that live on Long Island know what to do during storm surge,” Bray said. “We don’t have that muscle memory (for tornadoes) built in New York.” 

More: What to do in a tornado warning

How to be safe during a tornado warning

  • Protect yourself from flying or falling debris, the single biggest life-threatening hazard.
  • Seek shelter in the closest, safest interior or underground room.
  • Always avoid windows.
  • Don’t go to the windows or doors to look outside.
  • Cover yourself with thick protective coverings, such as a mattress, sleeping bags, thick blankets or other protective coverings.
  • Wear a helmet if you have one to protect your head from debris.

— This story includes reporting by USA Today reporter Dinah Voyles Pulver

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