6 major weather events that shook the tri-state area in 2021
There were plenty of headlines and trends to capture our attention this past year, but one thing is certain - 2021 saw its share of dangerous and intense weather in the tri-state area.
Snowstorms, deadly flooding and historic tornadoes marked 2021's tri-state weather events.
Below are six of the biggest weather stories covered by News 12 in chronological order. From snow, to floods, to historic tornadoes - 2021 is a year that was marked by extreme weather.
SNOWY NOR’EASTER - FEB. 1
A bicycle food delivery worker rides his bike through Manhattan's Soho neighborhood, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Robert Bumsted)
The first major weather event of 2021 came in the form of a massive nor’easter that tore through the tri-state area, dropping as much as 30 inches of snow in some areas.
The massive storm coincided with the start of vaccination efforts in the U.S., forcing several testing and vaccination sites to temporarily close.
News 12 Coverage:
TROPICAL STORM ELSA - JULY 9
Flooding caused by Elsa (Riche B. - Lindenhurst)
2021 saw its share of flooding storms, including the remnants of Tropical Storm Elsa. The system moved through the tri-state, whipping up winds and dousing the area with heavy rain.
Residents along the coast braced for beach erosion ahead of the storm, which eventually left areas of severe flooding in its wake.
News 12 Meteorologist Mike Rizzo offers his perspective:
Tropical Storm Elsa was the earliest “E” named storm on record, forming on July 1, 2021, and ultimately was the first hurricane of the 2021 hurricane season. By the time Elsa impacted the tri-state area, it weakened to a tropical storm. The storm made its closest approach to New York City shortly after 7 a.m. on July 9, 2021.
Elsa itself dropped about 1.79 inches of rain in Central Park with about 2.26 inches in Brooklyn Heights and 1.20 inches at Yankee Stadium. This was not the worst storm of the season with respect to rainfall as post tropical depression Ida was responsible for record-breaking catastrophic rainfall, flooding, and widespread damage with 7.19 inches of rain in Central Park.
Yet, just before Elsa impacted NYC with morning rain, a stalled front produced severe thunderstorms with incredible rain-per-hour rates. In fact, these thunderstorms took seventh place for highest one-hour rainfall total ever recorded (since 1943) in New York City. This rain on July 8 cascaded into the subway system and caused flash flooding on the Bruckner Expressway.
Elsa’s primary impacts were rain, not wind, as the tropical cyclone’s center was offshore and weaker. The exception would be for the wind over the open waters off the coast of the Jersey Shore, where hurricane-force gusts occurred. Meteorologically, a cold front was pushing Elsa to the east-northeast, improving weather conditions early on July 9, with clearing by 9 a.m. A few scattered thunderstorms associated with that front occurred later that evening.
News 12 Coverage:
NEW JERSEY TORNADO OUTBREAK - JULY 29
Downed trees lay amongst buildings at the Valley Road Picnic Area in the aftermath of storm in Hopewell Township, July 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A fast-moving storm sparked six tornadoes in New Jersey on the evening of July 29. The storms flipped boats, toppled trees and caused extensive damage to several homes.
The six tornado touchdowns in New Jersey nearly broke a record set on Nov. 16, 1989, where seven tornadoes touched down in the Garden State.
News 12 Meteorologist Michele Powers offers her perspective:
We knew there was a severe weather threat but we didn’t know this day would become the second most active tornado day NJ would ever see. The SPC was focusing on the tri-state area and had central and southern NJ in the “enhanced” category. That’s a level 3 which means numerous severe storms or more persistent/widespread storms, with the possibility of some becoming quite intense. That is rare for our area, but this past summer was unusually warm, muggy and stormy. NJ ended up seeing a rare tornado outbreak that day. Ten tornadoes total in the Northern Mid Atlantic, with 6 of them in NJ. Keep in mind that in a typical year, NJ averages only 2.
I started my day by looking at the forecast while eating my breakfast and of course checking out social media too. Twitter was buzzing with the possibility of storms later in the day. I posted about the new SPC outlook, glanced over several sites with the latest forecast models and took notes. Honestly, I didn’t like what I was seeing, but this wasn’t the first time this year I was concerned over the forecast. It was a Thursday night in July. This time of year, people were on vacation. They were out, dining, shopping, having fun, etc. Would they know about the storms? Would they be “weather aware” and get warnings in time? These questions raced through my mind. I needed to get a good handle on this forecast and get the message out as best as I could that day, even before my shift started.
I told my husband as I left for work, be careful driving around today. If you see ANY sun, prepare for the worst. We ended up not even needing the full sun, the extra CAPE produced was just a bonus. I also reminded him to listen to any warnings that may pop. Please take them very seriously was my message.
While on shift, I ended up doing a Facebook live for Connecticut in the late afternoon (I was working for News 12 Connecticut that day). By this time, a few thunderstorms had bubbled up in SW CT. They had lightning and really heavy rain that prompted some flood warnings.
Some strong winds but not quite severe. The severe storms were just firing up over eastern Pennsylvania and were poised to move into NJ, where the instability was even stronger. Then it was showtime. The NWS issued warning after warning. Alerts were constantly going off on my phone. In all there were 12 tornado warnings issued that day, along with several severe thunderstorm warnings too. Massive supercell storms developed and they spawned tornadoes. These storms cycled through the evening as they moved SE.
The storms didn’t even weaken after the sun set. That’s how strong the dynamics in play were that day. My heart sank as I saw warnings go up for Long Beach Island. Being late July, I knew that area would be crowded with vacationers. It was also getting dark at this point.
Heavy rain blasted NJ along with damaging wind gusts, large hail (1”+) and six tornadoes. The tornadoes ranged in strength from an EF0-EF2, an EF3 was confirmed in eastern Pennsylvania. Numerous trees were snapped or uprooted. There was also damage to houses and boats in Long Beach Township. That particular tornado formed in Barnegat, crossed the Barnegat Bay as a waterspout and then touched down in High Bar Harbor in Long Beach Township.
The storms finally pushed offshore around 9-10 p.m. One supercell continued to show strong rotation and produced a waterspout for tens of miles offshore. Tornadoes also touched down in Verona in Essex County, Windsor in Mercer County, Woodland Township/Chatsworth in Burlington/Ocean Counties, New Hope, Pennsylvania to Titusville NJ in Mercer County and Cedar Bridge in Ocean County. There was no loss of life and injuries were minor. A strong cold front crossed the state later that night and quieter weather settled in for the next several days.
That was the end to a long month of heat, humidity and storminess but that definitely wasn’t it for the rest of the summer.
News 12 Coverage:
TROPICAL STORM HENRI - AUG. 23-24
Henri’s late shift spared the tri-state area from severe damage - but it still saw plenty of flooding from the storm.
Thousands were left without power and roadways were left submerged under water, despite the shift in the storm’s track.
News 12 meteorologist Rich Hoffman has details:
News12 Meteorologists started tracking Hurricane Henri five days before it passed Long Island on Aug. 22. The computer models showed Long Island in the cone of uncertainty before passing near Long Island as a Category 1 hurricane. If landfall did happen it would be the first hurricane to pass over Long Island since Hurricane Gloria on September 27, 1985.
Henri approached Long Island and slowed down, allowing the colder ocean water to weaken the system to a tropical storm. Henri made landfall on the coast on Rhode Island, near Westerly, at 12:30 p.m. EST on Sunday Aug. 22 with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. This was good news for Long Island, a weaker storm and a track to the east of Long Island meant the worst of the potential damage would not occur on Long Island.
When tracking hurricanes, the three areas that do the damage are storm surge, fresh water flooding (rainfall) and wind damage. The storm surge on Long Island was 1 to 3 feet with minor to moderate coastal flooding and beach erosion.
Rainfall ranged from 1 to nearly 6 inches. The worst of the rain was over western Nassau County west through NYC and New Jersey.
Peak wind gusts were 35 to 55 mph on Long Island.
Data courtesy of the the NOAA/NWS Hazards Viewer.
News 12 Coverage:
REMNANTS OF HURRICANE IDA - SEPT. 2-3
Cars and trucks are stranded by high water on the Major Deegan Expressway on Thursday Sept. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, File)
Ida’s intense rain quickly overwhelmed several key areas of infrastructure in the tri-state area - completely flooding roads and basement apartments. Sadly, the storm left dozens dead in the Northeast. Some of those individuals drowned when waters flooded their basement apartments.
The storm also slammed parts of New Jersey with tornadoes, including a huge EF-2 storm that tore through Mullica Hill, NJ.
News 12 Meteorologist Dave Curren provides his perspective on the New Jersey storm impact:
Post tropical storm Ida will be remembered for excessive rainfall in just a few hours.
Tragically the prolific rain brought deadly flooding. Dozens of deaths can be blamed on the extraordinary flash flooding. It is the second greatest loss of life from a natural disaster in New Jersey, exceeded only by post tropical storm Sandy.
Ida developed in the Caribbean, just north of Caracas South America. It became a named storm on Aug. 26 and moved northwest thru the ultra warm waters of the Caribbean attaining hurricane status on the 27th as it passed over western Cuba. Ida became a Category 4 hurricane cruising through the Gulf of Mexico making landfall in Louisiana with a peak wind of 150 mph. The storm began to track north and east weakening quickly interacting with land, but remained a moisture monster. On Sept. 1 Ida’s remnants merged with another system and moved over New Jersey.
Ida steered across NJ over the afternoon of Sept. 1 into the wee hours of the Sept. 2. Along with the torrential downpours, Ida was responsible for 3 tornadoes that day, including the strongest tornado in over 30 years - an EF-3 tornado with peak winds of 150 mph. It was on the ground from 20 minutes traveling over 12 miles, destroying multiple homes and injuring two people.
Neighborhoods in New Jersey and across the tri-state received measurable rain from Ida. Some more, way more, than others. A band of heavy, steady rain set up along and just north of the Turnpike from Mercer, Hunterdon, Somerset, Middlesex, Union, Essex into Bergen County - which all received 6-9”. This type of rain exceeds what the state would expect in one or two months. Yet we saw all this happen in six hours!
The rain fell and collected so fast that unheard-of street and river flooding occurred. Water tables were already running very high. A week prior tropical system Henri dumped heavy rainfall. A multitude of thunderstorms over the summer brought locally heavy downpours to the area as well. The stage was set for more historic flooding. The flooding that occurred was just as bad and in some cases worse than what Floyd (1999) and Irene (2011) brought to the region.
Additional credit: Rutgers NJ Weather Network
News 12 Coverage:
HISTORIC LONG ISLAND TORNADOES - NOV. 13
Chopper 12 shows a small plane flipped over at Calabro Airport in Brookhaven by November's powerful storms.
What started out as a warm Saturday ended with a historic outbreak of tornadoes on Long Island.
The storms spawned six tornadoes, the most ever recorded in one day on Long Island. The event also marked the first time Long Island saw tornadoes in November.
The powerful storms flipped small planes, toppled trees and caused widespread damage.
News 12 meteorologist Meredith Garofalo tracked the storms on air that day and offers her perspective:
I don't know what it was about Saturday, November 13, but from the minute I stepped outside that morning to go for a walk, I knew something wasn't right in the air. It was a mild morning, the sun was shining, reminding you of a spring day instead of mid-November.
It's what some like to call the calm before the storm system, and in this case, it literally was a quiet start to a day that would include two hours of tornado warnings across Long Island. Before heading into work, I called one of my best friends in Florida and during our conversation I told her about my gut feeling that made me nervous about what we would see when that front moved through in the afternoon. I knew it was a rarity to have tornadoes on Long Island during this time of year, but having forecast events like this in other parts of the country out of season such as the Illinois Tornado Outbreak of December 1 in 2018, I was familiar with the certain ingredients needed to make it happen.
So before we talk about the outcome, let's discuss the set-up going into the day. There are several things , or as I mentioned - ingredients - that need to come together for severe weather to occur, but to make it easy to remember the acronym SLIM --- shear, lift, instability, and moisture. Shear is when the winds both increase as you go up into the atmosphere as well as change directions with height. That will help create the spin, or rotation, needed for tornadoes to develop. Next is lift, which helps create thunderstorms and happens when a front moves through. We get instability when at the ground level you have warm, humid air and it's cooler above. To keep it simple, this helps fuel the updraft in a thunderstorm. And finally, moisture, which in our case there was plenty coming in from the warm, ocean waters.
I came into work early and began discussing everything with our morning meteorologist that day, Craig Allen. We both were looking at the line of storms developing moving into Nassau County, and a severe thunderstorm warning was issued that had a concern for two things --- damaging winds and the possibility of tornadoes at 3 p.m. After both of us going outside to look for approaching storms (we are weather geeks, you know), it was brought up how weird the sky looked, and also how eerily quiet it was that we could actually hear the cars on the highway nearby (that's never the case in the location of our studio).
Craig was on his way out the door to head home for the day, and as I was ready to tape an update for the shows, the emergency alert went off on my phone for a tornado warning. That was just the first of five that would be issued across both Nassau and Suffolk counties between 3-5 p.m. Craig raced back into the building, suited up, and together we went live from that first warning through the last following this dangerous line of spinning storms that eventually dropped six tornadoes within that time frame.
We were the ONLY local TV station in the New York City market that was live during this entire time...that's how dedicated we are to keep you safe and informed.
The National Weather Service in New York conducted storm surveys following the event and determined that all but one of the tornadoes were rated EF-0 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale with estimated maximum wind speeds of 85 mph. While there were damage reports from the weakest of the storms, the strongest tornado was rated an EF-1 with wind speeds topping at 110 mph.
This tornado had several touchdowns throughout its more than five mile path leaving behind a trail of debris in various communities between Shirley and Manorville, at one point crossing Sunrise Highway and flipping over a few single engine planes at the Brookhaven Calabro Airport. But despite the destruction from the storms, we were able to help protect and save lives of the millions of people within the warnings and result in no fatalities or injuries during what was definitely a rare and late-season event. That's our goal every single time -- we want to make sure you know all the facts, and when we say take cover we want to make sure you safely get through the storm.
The 2021 November Tornado Outbreak was historic as this was the first time since records began that there was a tornado on the island during the month of November and this was also the most the region has even seen within a day. Could this happen again? It's definitely possible when we have warmer ocean waters so late in the season that aid with the set-up for a severe weather day. While this type of weather event will not happen all the time, it serves as a good reminder to always have a plan in place for your family of what to do and where to go in the event there's a chance for severe weather in your community. Remember, if a WATCH is issued that means there's a possibility for severe weather to occur, and when a WARNING is issued, that means you need to take shelter as damaging storms are either occurring or likely for your area.
Mother Nature knows no boundaries, and coming from someone who has covered tornado warnings every month of the year from the Pacific Northwest to Northern California to the Midwest and here in the Northeast, you never know when that one storm could hit your backyard. Remember, it only takes one. Just know you can trust us, your hyper-local Storm Watch Team to keep an eye on the weather for you and we will be there for you always to help keep you safe before, during, and after the storm. This is what we wake up for every day, and it's a privilege to be able to serve you around the clock every day of the year.
Meredith Garofalo, Certified Broadcast Meteorologist (CBM), News 12 Long Island
NEWS 12 COVERAGE: