April 28, 2011

Severe Weather Likely Included a Tornado

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A tornado likely struck the towns of Ithaca and Danby early Thursday morning, according to Tompkins County officials. It will take National Weather Service staff several days to determine if the severe thunderstorms spawned a tornado or just strong winds, but several houses in the area suffered “severe damage,” a Tompkins County press release stated.

Cornell Police reported that no damage occurred on campus as a result of Thursday’s storm.

Although there was no damage on campus, students studying early Thursday morning in Uris Library’s Cocktail Lounge — which features large windows facing Libe Slope — were evacuated for about an hour.

“We were just concerned with wind and students studying near glass,” Carmen Blankinship, library associate, said. Students were allowed to return to the lounge as soon as the tornado warning was lifted, Blankinship said.

The National Weather Service issued two tornado warnings on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. The first warning, which expired at 9 p.m. Wednesday, coincided with a severe thunderstorm in the area, but no tornadoes. During the second warning, which expired at 2:45 a.m. Thursday, the tornado may have struck Ithaca and Danby, a town directly south of the Town of Ithaca.

Tornado warnings are issued by the weather service when “a tornado has been spotted or … Doppler radar indicates a thunderstorm circulation which can spawn a tornado,” according to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.

The most recent tornado to strike the Ithaca area occurred in 1994, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

Although the strongest part of the storm did not reach Cornell’s campus, damage in some parts of Tompkins County was more extensive.

“The preliminary assessment shows the storm affected around three dozen homes with minor to moderate damage (siding and roofing materials, limbs, electric services pulled out, etc.) and a handful with more severe damage,” the press release from Tompkins County stated.

The National Weather Service will determine in the next few days whether the severe thunderstorm was actually a tornado, but preliminary reports indicate that a tornado likely occurred.

Tompkins County Director of Emergency Response Lee Shurtleff said weather service staff members have “advised that damage shows a tornado-like appearance and [they] will be working to verify the initial determination, including the specific classification of the storm,” according to the county’s statement.

Also on Thursday morning, a tornado struck the Town of Erin in Chemung County, which neighbors Tompkins County to the south. The National Weather service estimated that the tornado had a wind speed of 111 to 135 miles per hour, classifying it as a Level 2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale. The tornado hit Erin at 1:25 a.m. Thursday.

Original Author: Michael Linhorst