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Remembering the 2006 Westchester, N.Y., Tornado

July 12, 2009

By WeatherBug Meteorologist, Andrew Rosenthal

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Three years ago, a powerful tornado ripped through lower New York State, wreaking havoc on the northern suburbs of New York City. By the time the storm passed, it reached the annals of history as the strongest and most destructive tornado in the region`s history.

The weather setup on July 12, 2006, was a typical July day in the New York metro area. Summertime heat was in full swing, along with plenty of Mid-Atlantic humidity. An area of low pressure was located across the Great Lakes that day, pressing a cold front into the Northeast and providing a spark for afternoon thunderstorm development. A Tornado Watch was issued for the greater New York area, underscoring the potential danger from storms.

The target that particular day was Rockland and Westchester counties, two of the wealthiest counties of the Empire State and located just to the north of New York City. The region consists of rolling hills divided by the wide Hudson River, which likely played a role in the storm`s development.

A thunderstorm moved across the border of New Jersey into western Rockland County, N.Y., around 3 p.m. Feeding off the warm air moving northward through the Hudson Valley, the storm quickly strengthened. It also developed some weak rotation thanks to the region`s topography.

By 3:30, a tornado developed with the storm, touching down near Grand View-On-Hudson, N.Y. The storm continued to strengthen as it moved toward the Hudson River, reaching nearly 300-feet wide as it destroyed a dock and crossed the Hudson River just north of the heavily-travelled Tappan Zee Bridge.

The twister continued to strengthen as it moved eastward into Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., and generating winds later estimated at 157 mph and reaching 1000 feet wide. The storm marched eastward, producing damage at Kenisco Reservoir in Valhalla, N.Y., before crossing the state line into Greenwich, Conn. The twister finally weakened and dissipated near Connecticut Route 15 (Merritt Parkway) just after 4 p.m.

Damage was severe in Sleepy Hollow, with a village-wide state of emergency declared. However, a quick clean-up effort allowed power to be restored within two days to most of the town. A warehouse in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., suffered the worst damage, as two walls were blown out and a staircase collapsed. A nearby church had a 10-foot stained-glass window destroyed, and a state trooper`s car was flipped several times by the storm on New York Route 9A.

Thousands of trees were uprooted as the storm tore through suburban and rural portions of the counties, with damage totals from the storm estimated at $12 to 13 million between New York and Connecticut. There were no fatalities from the twister, and only minor six injuries.

Tornadoes are unusual in suburban downstate New York. This tornado was the eighth ever recorded in Westchester County. It was also the strongest tornado in the history of Rockland and Westchester counties, rated as an F2-strength twister.

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