Has a tornado ever hit your town? New tool maps 70+ years of NJ twisters
As we learned last Thursday, tornadoes can and do form in New Jersey.
In fact, between 1950 and July 2021, there have been at least 182 confirmed tornado touchdowns in the state. That equates to an average of 2.45 per year.
In a stroke of perfect timing, the NJ State Climate Office at Rutgers University just released a new interactive web tool that maps and charts all 182 of those NJ tornadoes. (And counting...)
The site uses data from the Storm Events database housed by the National Centers for Environmental Information and from storm reports compiled by the National Weather Service.
Each tornado's data marker shows (where available) the start point and end point, path length and width, damage estimate, and the tornado's rating on the (Enhanced) Fujita Scale. (The change from the F- scale to EF- scale for tornadoes occurred in 2007.)
New Jersey State Climatologist Dave Robinson and his team have been working on this product for a while. "We are always looking for new ways to keep NJ’s citizens informed of weather and climate information that they may find useful in making daily decisions or planning for the future," Robinson says. "The tornado page is an example of this sort of information presented in an interactive manner that we hope all will find interesting and useful."
Full disclaimer: Before I came to Townsquare Media and New Jersey 101.5, I worked full-time as a programmer and meteorologist in Dr. Robinson's office. That gives me extra reason to go full-on "weather geek" about this new climatological toy.
Some cool tidbits I found poking around the data:
—Four NJ tornadoes since 1950 have been rated F-3, with estimated wind speeds of 158 mph or greater. The strongest of which - in Ocean County in 1983 and in Somerset County in 1990 - each caused over $2.5 million of damage.
—Meanwhile, the majority of tornadoes were classified as (E)F-0 and (E)F-1, on the bottom end of the scale.
—This is our third hyperactive tornado year in a row. There were 10 confirmed in 2019, 4 in 2020, and 8 (and counting) in 2021. NJ's annual record is a whopping 19, set in 1989.
—The longest tornado track to slice through New Jersey occurred on July 14, 1958. The damage path stretched over 48 miles from near Maple Shade, Camden County to Lavalette in coastal Ocean County.
—A quick glance at the tornado map shows holes - areas of very few tornado reports - both in the Pinelands of South Jersey and the Highlands of North Jersey. Meanwhile, the concentration of tornadoes seems to be much higher along the NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway. Is that a real phenomenon? Probably not. As the site points out, "there may have been tornadoes in unpopulated areas that were not accounted for because no one actually saw and reported the tornado."
Dr. Robinson also pointed out that the database includes notable tornadoes from March to November, nine months out of the year. He cautions that New Jerseyans "need to be aware of potential severe weather (not just tornadoes, but lightning, strong winds, and flashflood producing rain) almost year round."
Robinson said he and his staff intend to keep the site updated as future tornadoes are confirmed. ("Hopefully not too often," he remarked.) That will allow for easy visualization of new storms. And it can serve as a launching-off point for future research projects and studies.
The Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist also runs the NJ Weather Network, with 65 monitoring stations around the state. It's literally a resource I use every single day in my weather work. Their weather observations are also an important part of the "weather grid" temperatures we read on the radio every 15 minutes.
Dan Zarrow is Chief Meteorologist for Townsquare Media New Jersey. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter for the latest forecast and realtime weather updates.