NWS details 8-minute wrath of EF3 storm


Editor’s Note: The following story is based on an updated National Weather Service report released Saturday night. It provided the most detailed account of the EF3 tornado that hit Bensalem on Thursday night. The Weather Service at the Mount Holly, New Jersey base had five investigation teams examining damage reports from the Lehigh Valley to the Jersey coast as a result of Thursday’s storms. They confirmed 8 separate tornadoes, including three in Bucks County.

Eight minutes.

That’s how long it took a rare EF3 tornado to spread a 3.5-mile swath of destruction that started in northeast Philadelphia before leaping across the county line to Bensalem, where it did the most damage.

It was 7:04 PM Thursday when the tornado touched down near Southampton Road, Kelvin Avenue and Trevose Road. It uprooted and blew down large branches of a few coniferous and hardwood trees before crossing County Line Road into the Trevose section of Bensalem.

The trail continued between Trevose Road in Bucks County and Peyton Street in Philadelphia, damaging further trees before crossing Lukens Street, and briefly went to the northern tip of the city’s Poquessing Valley Park before returning to Bensalem.

More tornado coverage: The Night Three Tornadoes Tore Through Bucks

The next hit was the Beechwood Estates in Trevose, a neighborhood between the roads of Somerton and Trevose, where it caused minor damage to homes and blew down several sections of vinyl screens.

During the first few minutes of its life, the twister hadn’t reached its top speed of 140 miles per hour. But things would improve as he approached Somerton Road in Trevose.

The wind picked up and the path widened considerably as it entered the Metropolitan Industrial Center at Somerton Road.

For subscribers: “Take cover now!” Bensalem residents had seconds to make life or death decisions when EF3 tornado struck

Five wooden utility poles snapped near the ground along Somerton Road and at the SUEZ Water Company. Seven warehouse buildings northeast of Somerton Road suffered at least minor damage.

Northtec in the 2500 block of Metropolitan Avenue was the worst affected building in the complex. It sustained significant structural damage. Large sections of roofing material were blown away. The force of the wind blew out the garage bay doors and windows.

Roof-mounted HVAC units were shifted or blown off buildings. An interior wall collapsed through French doors. In the parking lot, a sedan was lifted and turned over like a Hot Wheels toy. A steel flagpole was crushed into the ground.

A nearby cell tower held up, but the wind took all the antennas with it.


Tornado damage at Concord Park Bensalem

Tornado by Bensalem causes a tree to fall into a house on Garfield Lane in Concord Park.

Bridget Reilly, Bucks County Courier Times

After the EF3 – the first in Pennsylvania since 2004 – finished its industrial center, the tornado moved southeast into the Concord Park and Lincolnia neighborhoods that lie along Old Lincoln Highway between Street Road and Route 1. There was damage to houses along Carter Road and damage to trees along Carter and Sussex roads north of Buckfield Terrace.

More about the Bensalem tornado: ‘Not in this neighborhood’: Tornado no one expected hits Bensalem’s Concord Park, Rockhill Drive

Here the tornado reached its widest point about three-tenths of a mile and gobbled up more debris it encountered.

As the storm crossed the Pennsylvania Turnpike, an overhead exit sign was blown away. It was found half a mile away.

Just north of the toll road, an uprooted tree in a parking lot caused minor damage to a hotel. Just north of the turnpike and south of East Street Road, a large billboard was blown over. The roof of a small utility building was slid off.

At 52 Toscana restaurant on Street Road, on the northern edge of the tornado, a chain link fence was knocked down and some small trees in the parking lot were uprooted.

Winds picked up again, but the storm’s damage path narrowed as it headed toward its next target: the Faulkner Automotive Group dealers next door.


Faulkner Service Center Talk About When a Possible Tornado Hit the Building

Anthony Perez, a Faulkner employee, recounts moments when a possible tornado hit his building.

James McGinnis, Bucks County Courier Times

Significant damage was done to four of the six dealership showrooms on Street Road. The Buick/GMC showroom was hit the hardest.

Most of the showroom roof was blown off. Every window and door was gone.

The exterior walls showed signs of structural fractures due to wind stress. Rooftop HVAC units were thrown into the parking lot behind the building. All dealer signs near the main road had been blown apart.

New and used vehicles suffered significant damage from flying debris or after being tossed about by the wind.

The tornado then pushed toward the dealer’s main service garage, where the most damage occurred.

The southwestern part of the building was flattened after most of the exterior walls collapsed and the roof blown off. Most of the interior walls were still standing. The rooftop HVAC units were thrown off the building. One unit landed nearly 200 meters downstream.

On the east side, the damage subsided somewhat, where parts of the exterior walls were damaged and nearly every garage door was blown apart. A small pickup truck was crushed under a collapsed exterior wall.

The wind swept through the garage, taking car parts and tools, which were later placed downstream of the building. Large pieces of flying debris flattened vehicles near the main garage building. The wind lifted other vehicles into the air and then dropped them.

The next target of the tornado was the Weisser Homes and Penn Valley Terrace mobile home parks behind Faulkner off Old Lincoln Highway. It cut through a thick wall of mature trees stripping most of them to their bare broken trunks.

At one point, the wind carried a large storage container of auto parts he’d taken from the Faulkner service garage above the woods and dropped it.

Several mobile homes sustained some damage. One of the worst was an uninhabited house, the wind picked up and hit the ground. A large part of the roof of a double-wide mobile home had been blown off. Trees were knocked down, snapped, uprooted and twisted all over the mobile home parks one behind the other.

After the storm crossed the Old Lincoln Highway at Rockhill Road, the damage path narrowed significantly and began to slow its fury.

It went over the Walmart and Lowe’s shopping center and then the Target-Home Depot shopping center on Rockhill Road.


Video Shows Whirling Storm Outside LA Fitness in Bensalem

Ethiel Sandoval captured this video of debris swirling in the air outside LA Fitness in Bensalem.

Courtesy of Ethiel Sandoval, Bucks County Courier Times

No structural damage to the buildings there was found, but many small trees were snapped and uprooted in the large parking lot and in a row of trees just north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike interchange. In the junction area, exit signs have blown over.

The tornado traveled east-southeast to Bensalem on Route 1 toward a residential area. Several homes lost roofing and sustained minor damage.

The tornado swept down Rockhill Road and along Richlieu Road toward the Christian Life Center, where it broke up and uprooted trees. The wind blew the paneling of the church tower, but the tower was not damaged further.

The dying tornado crossed Galloway Road where it entered Bensalem Township Community Park, near Bristol Road. It left minor damage to the tree before disappearing at 7:12 PM

For subscribers: Is Climate Change the Cause of the Increase in Pennsylvania Tornadoes?

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