Manahawkin resident describes tornado experience as “terrifying”

    It’s official.

    Following hours of speculation from residents who experienced Tuesday morning’s violent thunderstorm in the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township, the National Weather Service has confirmed a low-level tornado.

    The EF-0 rated tornado — the weakest on the Enhanced Fujita Scale — touched down near the intersection of Route 9 and Oak Avenue at 10:05 a.m., packing an estimated maximum wind speed of 75-85 miles per hour along its 50-100 yard path, before lifting near the intersection of Hilliard Boulevard and Beach Avenue, according to a storm report issued by the National Weather Service.

    Despite its relative weakness, during its two-mile path, the twister blew down or snapped numerous trees, damaged the roof of several church buildings, and sent a tree crashing into a garage, the report states.

    There were no injuries or fatalities.

    A woman who experienced the tornado says it was “terrifying.”

    Heather Nelke, who resides along the tornado’s path on Beach Avenue, tells Jersey Shore Hurricane News and Newsworks that she didn’t need any confirmation of what she had experienced.

    “I was more scared in the 45 seconds of the storm than I was for the entire duration of Hurricane Sandy,” she says. “To put it in perspective, we had one tree down during Sandy. 13 snapped and uprooted today.”

    Nelke was first startled by what she describes as “one huge crack of thunder” in her backyard, prompting her to grab her baby and run downstairs. She then saw leaves and branches swirling through the air.

    “Shingles and gutters were ripped off our house, and between the wind and our fire alarm going off, it was hard to even hear yourself think,” Nelke explained. 

    The cleanup in Neike’s neighborhood is ongoing, residents say. 

    While testimonials from the public are helpful, Gary Szatkowski, chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service field office in Mount Holly, NJ, says that there is much more involved during the investigation process.

    “When a tornado damage survey is taking awhile, it often comes down to one of two things. One, it really is a close call tornado vs. not,” he tweeted. “Or two, if it is a tornado, you have to confirm path length, path width, EF intensity rating, etc, which takes awhile.”

    The wind speeds associated with today’s tornado were slightly less than those generated by the June 30, 2012 derecho, which caused extensive damage and two deaths in South Jersey, according to Szatkowski.

    This is the second tornado of 2013 in New Jersey. On July 1, an EF-0 tornado moved through Berkeley Heights, New Providence, and Summit, causing property damage but no casualties.

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