BENSALEM, PA — After investigating tornadoes that swept the Philadelphia area on Thursday, the National Weather Service has released details of Bensalem’s rare EF3 tornado.
The storm, with peak winds of 140 mph, traveled 3.5 miles with a storm width of about 0.3 miles. There were no fatalities and Bensalem police said on Friday that six people suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
While there are many images of the partial collapse of the Faulkner car dealership and extreme damage to Street Road, the tornado covered much more ground than one block.
Read the NWS research report:
As the tornado approached Somerton Road, it began to intensify and expand significantly as it moved into the Metropolitan Industrial Center. Numerous coniferous and hardwood trees were cut or uprooted in the SUEZ Water Company site southwest of and along Somerton Road. Five wooden power poles have broken near the ground along Somerton Road and on the north side of the SUEZ site. All seven warehouse buildings in the industrial complex northeast of Somerton Road suffered at least minor damage, with the greatest damage being done to the Northtec building. Numerous roof-mounted HVAC units were shifted or vented from some buildings in the industrial complex. A non-load-bearing interior wall collapsed through French doors in the westernmost building. A sedan was lifted and turned over in the Northtec parking lot and a steel flagpole with a flag on it was completely flattened to the ground.
The Northtec building suffered significant structural damage due to large sections of the roofing material being removed. In addition, numerous exterior panels were blown off, garage doors were blown out, a few windows were blown out, and at least two large HVAC units were blown off the building. Numerous coniferous and hardwood trees were uprooted or snapped in the industrial complex and immediately adjacent areas.
Tree damage related to the tornado occurred along Carter Road and Sussex Road north of Buckfield Terrace. This was the area where the tornado circulation reached its greatest extent at about three-tenths of a mile. As the tornado approached the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-276) and crossed the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-276), an information board was blown off an overground road and part of it landed nearly a half-mile further downstream. Just north of the toll road, minor cosmetic damage occurred to a hotel building where a tree in the parking lot had also been uprooted. A large billboard was blown down just north of the turnpike and south of Street Road. A small utility building nearby had its roof blown off. The northernmost extent of the damage occurred at the Toscana 52 restaurant, where the tornado blew down a chain-link fence and uprooted some small trees in the parking lot.
The tornado moved east-northeast down Street Road toward the Faulkner car dealership complex, where it began to intensify, narrowing its path of damage slightly. The dealers’ four showrooms suffered significant damage, with most of the windows blown out and at least some roofing blown off. The worst damage occurred at the Buick/GMC showroom, where most of the roofing material had been blown off, all windows and doors had blown out and the exterior walls cracked due to wind stress. Rooftop HVAC units from this building were thrown into the parking lot behind the building. All dealer signs near the main road were destroyed. Numerous new and used vehicles suffered significant damage from flying debris or being pushed or thrown through the air. The tornado continued to the dealer’s main service garage, where the most damage occurred. The southwestern portion of the building was destroyed, with most of the exterior walls completely collapsing and all roofing material blown away. Most of the interior walls remained standing. HVAC units on the roof were thrown from the building and one unit landed nearly 200 meters downstream from the building. The damage to the building eased somewhat towards its eastern end, where portions of the exterior walls were damaged and nearly all the garage doors were blown out. The wind that raged through the garage area carried debris, auto parts and tools downstream far away from the structure. Some vehicles near the main garage building were completely destroyed by large pieces of flying debris or by being flung and falling back to the ground. A small pickup truck was crushed by a collapsed exterior wall. Five people are said to have suffered minor injuries at the dealer complex. The tornado continued east to northeast toward Weisser Homes mobile home park and into an area of trees that sustained significant damage. Most of the treetops and branches had been completely stripped of the stationary or broken trunks of hardwood trees in this area. A large storage container filled with auto parts from the upstream service garage parking lot was lifted into the air and set down in this tree-lined area. An uninhabited mobile home model was lifted and completely destroyed on the mobile home park. Another double-wide mobile home had a large part of the roof blown off. Several other mobile homes also suffered varying degrees of damage. A large amount of various debris from the dealer complex has ended up in this mobile home park. Numerous coniferous and hardwood trees in the vicinity and just downstream of this area were snapped or uprooted along the Old Lincoln Highway. At this stage, the path of the tornado damage narrowed significantly and the intensity decreased significantly as it crossed the Old Lincoln Highway and moved toward the Lowe’s and Walmart shopping centers on Route 1. The tornado passed over these malls, but no structural damage was noted to these structures. Numerous small trees were snapped and uprooted in the large parking lot and row of trees just north of the toll road junction in Bensalem. In the junction area, some exit signs have been blown over.
The tornado damage was interrupted somewhat as it moved east-southeast to Bensalem on Route 1 and toward a residential area. Several homes in the area sustained some roofing and other cosmetic damage in addition to some damage to trees.
The tornado continued down Rockhill Road and along Richlieu Road toward the Christian Life Center, where several trees were snapped or uprooted. Some panels had blown off the church tower, but the tower itself was not damaged. The tornado continued to weaken as it crossed Galloway Road and then disappeared into Bensalem Township Community Park, where some minor tree damage occurred.
Bucks County is considered low tornado risk, with the most recent severe storm classified as F3 in 1990, more than 30 years ago. Read more about the storms in the region and the findings of the NWS here.
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