By Calvin Palmer
Meteorologists from the National Weather Service today established that the storm that ripped through New York City on Thursday evening produced two tornadoes and a fierce macroburst with wind speeds up to 125 mph.
The storm hit the city during the evening rush hour and left a 14-mile path of destruction from Brooklyn to Queens and one woman was killed. It brought down trees that snapped power lines and crushed vehicles.
Iline Levakis, from Pennsylvania was killed when a tree crushed her parked car in Queens. She had just switched seats with her husband Billy Levakis, said a former business partner, Peter Markos. The husband survived.
Kyle Struckmann, a meteorologist with the agency, said it was amazing that only one person died.
“It’s practically a miracle considering the population that was affected by this,” he said.
One of the tornadoes struck Brooklyn at 5:33 p.m. Thursday, with winds up to 80 mph, and carved its way northeast from the Park Slope section, Struckmann said. The second one hit Queens at 5:42 p.m., with winds up to 100 mph, traveling 4 miles from the Flushing section to a mile north of Bayside.
It was the macroburst, eight miles long and five miles wide, which that packed the biggest punch with its winds of up to 125 mph. It started in the Middle Village section of Queens and ended in Forest Hills.
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe estimated more than 1,000 trees had been destroyed and the destruction was consistent with twisting rather than sideways winds.
For New York City residents it was a morning of sifting through debris and trying to return to normality.
Utility crews worked to restore power in blacked-out neighborhoods. The number of customers without power reached 37,000 at one point. By noon today about 29,000 customers, mostly in Queens, were still without power.
In the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, the storm swept away parts of the roof of at least six homes.
Tales of the destructive force of the storm dominated conversations this morning.
“A huge tree limb, like 25 feet long, flew right up the street, up the hill and stopped in the middle of the air 50 feet up in this intersection and started spinning,” said Steve Carlisle, 54. “It was like a poltergeist.”
“Then all the garbage cans went up in the air and this spinning tree hits one of them like it was a bat on a ball. The can was launched way, way over there,” he said, pointing at a building about 120 feet away where a metal garbage can lay flattened.
Ruby Ellis was doing dishes when the storm wailed over her house and yanked on the roof.
“The wind was holding my ceiling up in the air. It was like a wave; it went up and fell back down,” Ellis said. “After the roof went up, then all the rain came down and I had a flood.”
The worst of the storm started about 5:00 p.m., as a warm front from the south approached New York City. A line of thunderstorms moved through, intensifying as they reached the shore, causing winds to rotate within a small area, a characteristic that prompts a tornado warning, said National Weather Service meteorologist John Murray.
The storm tore through Staten Island, then Brooklyn, hitting Park Slope and Bedford-Stuyvesant hard. It then moved into Queens, striking strongly at Middle Village, Forest Hills and Bayside.
Bus and car traffic was reported at a standstill through much of the hardest-hit areas.
Fallen trees disrupted Long Island Rail Road service in and out of the city, forcing officials to close down service from Pennsylvania Station on the LIRR because of overcrowding there. Commuters whose trains home were canceled flooded into the subway seeking other routes to Queens.
In addition to the suspension of LIRR service, transit officials halted service last night on the busy No 7 subway line, which runs above ground in northern Queens, for a couple of hours.
Surveying the damage this morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “There are lots of stories of people who came very close to being hit by a big tree and killed, but fortunately there was only one. And that one was really tragic.
“While it may be an act of God, it doesn’t make it any easier for us. The good news is that most people were safe, just annoyed — traffic being bad, or a tree coming down in their yard.”