MARMORA – It took minutes for a tornado, generated by Tropical Storm Isaias, to demolish homes and businesses on a rampage across part of Marmora Aug. 4.
The path of twisted destruction is easy to follow, from where the tornado first hit the Garden State Parkway shortly before 10 a.m., ripping apart trees, to where it toppled gravestones and struck several businesses.
It crossed Route 9, damaging more businesses and tearing roofs from homes in the Pine Hill mobile home development before doing more damage on Stagecoach Road, and then dissipating over the woods.
While Isaias’ high winds took their toll throughout the morning, pulling siding from houses and limbs from trees throughout the area, the concentrated damage from the tornado has drawn the most attention.
According to Upper Township officials, it was a matter of minutes between when the twister touched down until it was all over.
Mayor Richard Palombo said he didn't recall another tornado hitting Upper Township, and he has been mayor for more than 20 years.
While tornadoes are rare, in New Jersey, they are not unprecedented. New Jersey averages about two tornadoes a year, according to Alex Staarmann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS), based in Mount Holly.
Some years see less, others see more, but if the tornado forms over woods or away from population centers, they may not be reported at all, he said.
In this instance, the tornado formed as a waterspout before reaching land, according to the Marmora Volunteer Fire Company. It crossed between Strathmere and Ocean City, downing cedar trees and snapping lines on Ocean Drive, but if it did that damage and dissipated over the marsh, it would not have drawn nearly as much attention.
Upper Township officials didn't have an estimate for the damage, but several homes were rendered uninhabitable and a tree pushed into a Route 9 business sheared a large section of wall from the building. Multiple cars were crushed beneath tree limbs in its path.
According to data compiled by the NWS, the tornado was an EF1, on the Enhanced Fujita scale, with an estimated peak wind speed of 100 mph. It was 150 yards wide at its maximum, and traveled 5.25 miles. There were no reported injuries or deaths.
Staarmann said the tornado was not a surprise with Isaias storming up the coast.
“It was a prolific tornado producer,” he said. There were six likely tornadoes reported in the Mount Holly coverage area, he said, with at least two in Pennsylvania, one in Northeast Maryland and two in Delaware. Media reports indicate there was also a tornado in Ocean County.
The tropical storm hugged the coast on its way north, with the center of the storm passing the eastern shore and traveling over northern Delaware, across the bay from Cape May County. It went over Philadelphia and up I-95.
Sustained winds were at 60 miles an hour. With a tropical storm system, Staarmann said, those winds may last for hours.
Most tornadoes are formed by severe thunderstorms with a persistent updraft. A cylinder of air rotates within the storm, according to information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). As that cylinder narrows and accelerates, a tornado can form. Some last only minutes, but tornadoes can last for more than an hour. They can be extraordinarily destructive and deadly.
Some climate scientists have warned that the strength of storms could increase as ocean waters warm around the world, adding energy to storm systems. Reports from governmental agencies and other organizations raise concerns about more intense and more common tropical storms and hurricanes in the coming years.
Data shows more reported tornadoes, but, according to NOAA, that may not mean there are more tornadoes than in the past. Today, there are population centers throughout the nation, meaning a tornado is more likely to be reported, and improved instruments mean they are also more likely to be detected.
“With increased National Doppler radar coverage, increasing population, and greater attention to tornado reporting, there has been an increase in the number of tornado reports over the past several decades. This can create a misleading appearance of an increasing trend in tornado frequency,” reads a report on NOAA's website.
Tornadoes are far less common in the Northeast than in other regions. In comparison, Florida averages 66 confirmed tornadoes a year, with 96 in Kansas and 155 in Texas, according to NOAA.
In Cape May County, there have been eight confirmed tornadoes since record-keeping began in 1950, according to data accessed by Staarmann. The strongest took place May 6, 1956, listed as an F-2 tornado on a scale that runs from zero to five. It was reported to the northwest of Woodbine.
In addition to floods, blizzards, hurricanes, and thunderstorms, Cape May County’s emergency management team lists tornadoes as potentially hazardous weather and has tips posted on surviving a tornado (https://bit.ly/2DGmIuz).
They include staying indoors, away from windows, and in the basement or lowest level of the building and remain in the center of the room.
“If in a mobile home, get out and find shelter elsewhere,” reads the advice.
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