When you think of the weather, you don't normally associate tornadoes with New York. Tornadoes are more common in places in the Midwest and Southern U.S. during the spring and summer months. But New York does get tornadoes.

In November 2021, Long Island alone saw six tornadoes hit during a rare late fall storm event. According to records, the state as a whole averaged around 10 tornadoes a year from 1990 to 2010. According to the Democrat and Chronicle, the state saw a total of 12 tornadoes in 2021. But what are some of the most powerful tornadoes to ever hit the state on record?

Tornadoes have been rated since 2007 by something called the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which measures the amount of damage a tornado causes. Before 2007, it was simply known as the Fujita Scale. An EF-0 is the weakest on the scale, while an EF-5 is the strongest. The most powerful tornadoes can produce winds in excess of 300 MPH and have been known to sweep foundations completely clean while tossing multi-ton structures tens of thousands of feet into the air. While many of the tornadoes that have struck New York state are generally on the weaker end of the scale, could a large tornado strike and do major damage? Some of it depends on location.


One of the Worst Weather Disasters in State History

One of the most infamous storms in state history was on November 16, 1989, when powerful winds collapsed a wall at East Coldenham Elementary School in Newburgh, Sadly, seven children lost their lives during the storm, and two more shortly after while at the hospital. Many others suffered injuries. But was this an actual confirmed tornado, or a very strong downburst caused by severe weather? The National Weather Service has never officially classified the event. Local meteorologists, law enforcement, and other witnesses say it was a tornado, though survey teams later on-site claim it was a downburst.

If it was a tornado, then it would be the deadliest tornado in state history on record.

So, What's the Most Powerful Tornado to Ever hit NY? 

There have been three recorded F4s that have touched down in New York state, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. The first happened on August 28, 1973 in Columbia County over mostly open land, before moving into Massachusetts. Another F4 first touched down near Erie, Pennsylvania May 31, 1985, and then moved over the state line into New York. This was part of deadly outbreak of tornadoes that hit NY, PA, OH, and Ontario that same day.

The third was a nearly mile-wide tornado that touched down in Montgomery County on July 10, 1989. The storm would stay on the ground for 42 miles, traveling four counties (Greene, Montgomery, Schoharie, and Albany Counties).

You also have to consider that many of these weather records generally only go back to the late 1800s, so there is no telling how many storms hit before those times.

Other Tornadoes of Note

  • EF-2 July 8, 2014, in Madison County killed 4 people.
  • EF-2 hit Brooklyn on August 8, 2007, causing heavy damage and would become the costliest tornado to ever hit New York City.
  • An F3 that traveled through Mechanicville, Stillwater, and then on to Vermont on May 31, 1998. Also, an F3 went through Binghamton that same day.
  • EF-2 Westchester County and Connecticut tornado July 6, 2006.
  • EF-2 Brooklyn tornado September 16, 2010
  • Two F3s - North of Syracuse May 2, 1983


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