UPDATE: After 12 tornado warnings, at least 2 have probably touched down. No longer under investigation.
The National Weather Service says it’s possible three or four tornadoes hit different parts of New Jersey during a wave of strong thunderstorms Thursday night, but they won’t know for sure until they inspect the damage Friday.
A suspected tornado hit Mercer County Thursday night, causing power outages, flooding and downed trees, while a second suspected tornado hit the Lakehurst area in Ocean County, according to the regional office of the National Weather Service in Mount Holly.
Weather Service meteorologist Dean Iovino said his office plans to survey up to four areas of Garden State on Friday to check for damage and determine if it was indeed caused by tornadoes or if it was funnel clouds that never touched the ground.
In addition to the Hopewell and Trenton areas of Mercer County, the Meteorological Service is interested in investigating damage in the Lakehurst area of Ocean County, the Canton of Barnegat and the Harvey Cedars area in Ocean County, and the Willingboro and Mount Holly area of Burlington County, Iovino told NJ Advance Media.
The office also plans to check at least two locations in Bucks County, eastern Pennsylvania, including one where witnesses reported seeing a tornado on the ground – one that appeared to be heading towards Mercer County, a. said Iovino.
The Weather Service issued 12 tornado warnings throughout the evening in New Jersey, plus three in Pennsylvania and Delaware, as a multitude of powerful thunderstorms hit the area.
Mercer County spokeswoman Julie Willmot said the county has at least 1,000 customers without power in the Hopewell Valley area. There were trees near Pleasant Valley Road and at least one unoccupied vehicle was struck by a fallen tree. No injuries were immediately reported.
“We’re asking people to stay inside, go to the lowest level of the building they’re in, and stay off the roads until the damage can be assessed,” Willmot said.
The National Weather Service said witnesses saw a tornado land near the Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem, Pa., Which is within the coverage area of the Mount Holly office. However, the weather service will not be able to confirm this tornado – or any other – until it can assess the damage from the storm, according to meteorologist Sarah Johnson.
Johnson also said hail as big as half a dollar, about 1 1/4 inches in diameter, fell outside the Burlington County Weather Services office Thursday night. The weather service also received a report of hail as big as a ping-pong ball, about 1 1/2 inches wide, in Willingboro.
A tornado warning was issued for parts of Burlington, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Monmouth counties until 6:45 p.m., with the National Weather Service describing it as “a large and extremely dangerous tornado”, located over Washington Crossing, approximately 9 miles northwest of Trenton.
“This is a particularly dangerous situation. Take shelter now! The weather service said in its warning. “You are in a life threatening situation. “
At approximately 8:15 pm, the weather service saw strong indications of a tornado on radar over the Lakehurst area and called it a “confirmed tornado” in a warning it issued. It was the eighth tornado warning issued across the state on Thursday.
Weather officials said that by inspecting the damage, they would seek to determine the direction of the debris.
If there is debris spread in different directions, it would indicate rotating winds of a tornado, but if the debris were blowing in the same direction, it would be a sign of straight winds of a strong thunderstorm.
New Jersey is no stranger to tornadoes lately, with three small tornadoes confirmed so far this year – all during the month of July.
Two tornadoes hit the Garden State as Tropical Storm Elsa swept through the Shore area in the early morning hours of July 9 – one in Woodbine in Cape May County and one in Little Egg Harbor Township in Ocean County .
A tornado hit northern Burlington County on July 17 in a cluster of severe thunderstorms that swept through New Jersey that night. The tornado had an EF-1 rating, with estimated peak winds of 80 to 90 mph, the weather service determined.
Thank you for relying on us to provide you with journalism you can trust. Please consider supporting NJ.com with a voluntary subscription.