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NWS Confirms Tornado Touched Down In Wilton

NWS: A brief tornado hit the Wilton, New York area in Saratoga County during the evening of May 15, 2020. The tornado touched down near the intersection of Nichols Road and Woodard Road and tracked east for about two miles.
National Weather Service
NWS: A brief tornado hit the Wilton, New York area in Saratoga County during the evening of May 15, 2020. The tornado touched down near the intersection of Nichols Road and Woodard Road and tracked east for about two miles.

Utility crews spent the weekend restoring power to customers in and around Wilton, New York after the National Weather Service confirmed a tornado touched down there Friday evening. The storm caused widespread damage at a time when most people are trying not to leave home. For more on the tornado, WAMC’s Ian Pickus spoke today with Brian Frugis of the National Weather Service in Albany.

We had an area of thunderstorms that moved across the greater Capital Region, the Saratoga region on Friday evening, and National Weather Service meteorologists went to go survey the damage on Saturday. We did find that as a result of that survey that a brief tornado occurred in the Wilton area of Saratoga County during the evening of May 15. It was about a two-minute long duration tornado that traveled for 1.8 miles. This tornado was about 50 yards in diameter and had winds as high as 90 miles per hour. Most of the damage that the survey team found was to trees. Both softwood and hardwood trees are snapped and uprooted. There are also some signs blown down and some roofing material that was blown off a warehouse. This tornado was an addition to numerous other reports of trees and wires down just from straight line winds from the same group of thunderstorms. But the Wilton area did have a brief tornado that occurred as a result of the strong storm that we saw

What is meant by classifying it as an F1 tornado?

The classification is based on how strong the winds are. And the survey team is able to determine that by taking a look at the damage that occurred. So by surveying the damage and seeing how the trees were knocked down, what type of damage occurred to the structures from the wind itself, they're able to determine how strong the winds are, and that's based off some engineering studies that have been done in the past. So the damage they saw was correlated It was about 90 mile an hour winds. And the 90 mile an hour range is an EF1 tornado. EF1s are considered weak tornadoes, winds of 86 to 110 miles per hour. So this fell squarely in that range.

What kind of conditions have to be in place for something like this to happen in our region?

Well, we need that combination of both warm unstable air and also strong winds aloft. So a lot of times when we have thunderstorms, we don't always have both of those ingredients in place. But on Friday, we did have pretty warm and muggy air mass in place. And that was also a very strong storm system that had a lot of strong winds aloft that were also varying in speed and direction. And so that combination kind of came together, making it favorable for thunderstorms to produce tornadoes.

I can certainly think of a few over the years that we've covered in the Northeast, but how unusual is it to have an actual tornado? I know we have a lot of watches and warnings, but to actually get a touchdown, how unusual is that?

Yeah, it is fairly unusual to have tornadoes. We you know, we do wind up seeing maybe a couple preseason across eastern New York you know, anywhere from one to three per year so you know to get one already in May it you know, it's a little on the unusual side. But what's you know, what's not unusual is that it was fairly weak and brief in duration opposed to other parts of the country that tend to see stronger, more long lived tornadoes. This was fairly typical for a tornado that would develop across this area in the fact that it only lasted for two minutes and the winds were on the lower end of the range.

If we hear a watch or warning, what should we do to get ready?

Well, when we issue a tornado watch, that means that the conditions are favorable for thunderstorms that could produce tornadoes. So when the watch is out, it means we are monitoring, there are potentials there. So people are advised to kind of stay tuned with the weather, continue to listen for updates and, you know, be able to know that they may need to change their plans that day if a storm were to occur, and then once the warning is issued, it basically means it is occurring, or very expected to occur within the next few minutes. And that's when people advised to take immediate shelter to protect their life and their property.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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