It was a twister!
The National Weather Service confirmed late last week what many rattled Brooklynites had suspected all along: that an actual tornado tore through Park Slope last Thursday afternoon uprooting trees, damaging cars, peelings roofs from houses, sending at least one man to the hospital, and destroying, possibly forever, the myth that no one is safe from the wrath of Mother Nature.
Federal officials visited Brooklyn and Queens, a neighboring borough, on Wednesday to determine whether to deem the areas worthy of federal aid. Queens has long been a disaster area as far as most Brooklynites are concerned — and local witnesses to the storm will no doubt testify that our borough was sufficiently pummeled to warrant federal aid.
The greenish-grey whirlwind touched down at around 5:30 pm, just minutes after an overcast, but benign, sky suddenly veered into “Wizard of Oz” territory.
“S— is out of control in my neighborhood. I had to outrun the tornado!” Prospect Heights resident John Derian told us via terrified e-mail. “I noticed the wind was picking up, it started to rain a lot harder, lightning was flashing all around, and the clouds looked green. Then this girl ran past me yelling, ‘A tornado is coming!’ I turned around and see this wall of water barreling down the street!”
Only five minutes later, Derian emerged from his St. Johns Place apartment to a scene of shocking devastation, including a fallen steeple off the top of the Grace United Methodist Church that smashed into a car.
“Trees were uprooted [and had] torn apart the concrete. Cars were smashed from fallen branches and trees. Hundreds of people were snapping photos. It was a pretty wild scene.”
The local representative for the National Weather Service, Gary Conte, said that weather conditions were ideal for a tornado, as two systems with different temperatures and wind directions converged.
“We did see signs of rotation on the ground in Park Slope,” said Conte, adding that he observed “damage in a well-defined path” stretching two miles from Prospect Park heading northeast through the neighborhood.
An analysis by the National Weather Service estimated maximum wind speeds of 80 miles per hour, and that the tornado was roughly 75 yards wide.
A massive tree on Seventh Avenue between 11th and 12th streets was uprooted in the torrent and slammed into a car, sending its occupant, a local sensei, to the hospital.
Another tree in Prospect Park that was adored by at least one regular visitor, Gary Robbins, was also severely wounded by the twister.
“This tree really meant something to me,” wrote Robbins in an ode to the elm. “When I got to my tree I saw that two huge limbs had been ripped off. … I looked up and saw the sad area from where it had been torn. A huge discolored section of this magnificent American Elm was now vacant.”
Robbins added that life would go on in the wake of the catastrophe, but that the trauma of seeing his favorite tree felled would stay with him.
“My life is really much more than this tree — much more grand and diverse and human-oriented. But my tree certainly does mean something to me and if the park service looks at it and declares that it cannot survive … then I will be strongly damaged as well.”
It is unclear whether Robbins’s tree is among the 100 trees in Prospect Park that fell or were so damaged by the storm that they must be cut down.
The last tornado to roar through the borough was in 2007. Conte said that twisters are touching down in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions with increasing frequency, leading local meteorologists to reconsider the notion that the devastating so-called “acts of God” are uncommon in urban areas.
“They’re occurring with a fair enough frequency that we can’t call them ‘rare’ anymore,” said Conte.
He added that he had an idea what the possible reason might be for the uptick in twisters.
“Climate change must definitely be considered as a factor,” Conte said.