TOMS RIVER – The powerful winds that tore up trees and fences in mainland Toms River was determined not to be a tornado by the National Weather Service, however, there was one confirmed at Normandy Beach.
Residents reported seeing a tornado blow through the area of Bay Avenue and surrounding streets on April 21. It damaged trees and fences and even lifted a trailer into the air. The storm was sudden and powerful throughout the region. An Ocean Gate man died when his boat sank in the Toms River.
Sarah Johnson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said that after reviewing video of the Bay Avenue storm, the NWS determined that it was not a tornado. While experts are still reviewing evidence, they do not believe at this time that there was a tornado.
However, there was a water spout at 3:05 p.m. on the same day over the Barnegat Bay, she said. It hit land in Normandy Beach, a neighborhood on the barrier island, where it officially became a tornado. Shortly after, there was another water spout seen in the Atlantic Ocean. It was unknown if these were two different water spouts, or if it was the same one that started in the bay and continued across the land as a tornado and became a water spout again once it hit the ocean.
This was considered an EF0 tornado, the lowest on the scale – but still dangerous, Johnson said. This carries with it a maximum estimated wind speed of 70 mph.
The Normandy tornado and the damage on the mainland were all part of the same storm.
Officials were careful in using the term “tornado.” The word comes with a lot of connotations, and is generally thought of as something that can level a town. They put the word “tornado” in quotes or said it was tornado-like weather, or witnesses said they saw a tornado.
What happened on the mainland appeared to be straight-line winds, Johnson said. These were estimated at 60-80 mph. The cause of them in this situation was likely that there was a low-level jet aloft, and then the thunderstorm transferred the strong winds to the surface.
In the end, does the name of the wind matter? Not really.
“Straight-line winds can do just as much, and in some cases, more damage than a tornado,” Johnson said. Tornadoes tend to be more narrow in their path of destruction.
People think “How can straight-line winds do this much damage? It must be a tornado,” she said.
The storm caused hundreds of downed trees, damage to homes, cars, decks, pools, vehicles and fences. A 24-foot trailer went airborne and was dropped on a neighboring property, officials said. It was all hands on deck, as first responders, utility workers, and municipal employees cleared damage and made sure everyone was all right.
Approximately 4,000 homes lost power during the storm. Jersey Central Power & Light worked for hours to get power back on and cleared trees from power lines.
A boater had gone out on his rowboat before the storm and didn’t make it back.
Matt Conway, 67, was remembered by his fellow bandmates in the Shamrock & Thistle Pipes & Drums as a man who loved his family, friends, and of course music. He was a multi-instrumentalist, playing saxophone, accordion, guitar, smallpipes, and trombone in addition to the bagpipes.
“The loss of our dear brother is immeasurable and will be felt by us for years to come. We ask that you please pray for his wife Pat and their family during this very difficult time,” the band stated. “Matt was kind, compassionate, intelligent, and funny, and his contributions to the band were innumerable. His memory will live in our hearts always.” The band said that he was an experienced boater, and photos from home security videos showed him leaving with his life vest on.