The Bronx isn’t Kansas, but yes, Dorothy, that was a tornado that sent trees flying and utility poles crashing on Sunday afternoon. The National Weather Service says the twister churned through a half-mile slice of Riverdale with winds of 100 miles an hour for 10 minutes.
By Tuesday, the weather historians were poring over the record books. Seven tornadoes have been confirmed in New York City since 1974. There were none in the city in the 24 years before that, according to the Weather Service’s list of tornadoes since 1950 in the territory from Long Island to Orange and Putnam Counties.
The 1974 storm ripped through the Bronx on Sept. 2, 1974, when Abraham D. Beame was in his eighth month as mayor and Gerald R. Ford was in his first full month as president.
“Tornadoes are rare here,” said John Murray, a meteorologist with the Weather Service. “This is not the central plains, where you often have the dynamics to get the threat for tornadoes going.”
But sometimes they do.
On Aug. 8, 2007, a tornado touched down on Staten Island and whipped southwestern Brooklyn with winds of up to 135 miles an hour. The tornado struck just before the morning rush, tearing roofs off houses and yanking trees out of the ground. In other parts of the city, heavy rain paralyzed the transit system. “No trains at this time: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, N, R, S, Q, W, V, F, L, J, 7 to Queens,” a hand-lettered sign at Pennsylvania Station read.
Four years earlier, a tornado ripped through the Bulls Head section of Staten Island on Oct. 29, 2003. Tony Garcia, an engineer who lived through it, said he was “freaking out.”
“To me,” Mr. Garcia said, “it sounded like an 18-wheeler that just came off the highway and hit the guardrails.”
That was a distinctly modern description. Back when headlines were built like overstuffed club sandwiches, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle honored the twister that sewed destruction across South Brooklyn on Jan. 9, 1889, thusly:
FIRE & WINDA few years later, in July 1895, when a tornado devastated Woodhaven, Queens, The New York Times called it “the breath of an awful giant.”
South Brooklyn Treated to a Brilliant Display.
Why Some of the Residents of That Section of the City Thought that the End of the World Had Come — The Ravages of the Tornado — Blazing gas and Shattered Tanks — The Navy Yard Barracks Decapitated — A Memorable Night.
T.C. Levrat, who had been standing in the doorway of a barber shop, said the sky had darkened rapidly over Woodhaven as the wind picked up. “In the northwest there was a very black conical-shaped cloud,” he said. “It seemed to whirl round and round until it met a dense bank of black clouds coming from the east. Then the hail began to fall.”
He said he was thrown back against the door of the barber shop as the air filled with “all sorts of things — pieces of buildings, parts of trees, bricks, tile chimneys and I don’t know what else.”
“In less than three minutes,” he said, “it was all over, and the sun was shining brightly again.”
One person was killed, a 17-year-old woman named Louis Pirtraquer, also identified as Louise Pirtaguin, at her house on Rockaway Avenue. The Times said she was struck by a beam from a nearby school that had gone flying. The school’s tin roof was also ripped off, and the belfry atop the four-story building was shoved down into the third story.
The school commissioner. W.J. Bulkley, said local residents had recently voted to spend $25,000 to add four stories to the building. “I was to award the contract tonight,” he said.