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On August 29th, 2021, Major Hurricane Ida made landfall in southeastern Louisiana as a catastrophic Category 4. Leaving immense destruction in its wake, the remnants of this weather system zipped to the northeast. On September 1st, what was left of the storm combined with a frontal zone. This brought together the ingredients for a virtually unprecedented flooding event in Northeastern United States history. Fifty-six people died from Maryland to Connecticut. It also spawned ten tornadoes that day, four of which were significant. It is the strongest of the outbreak, an EF3, that is the focus of this summary. I (the author, Nelson Tucker) had the opportunity to personally survey the aftermath and talk with those who lived through it. The stories and damage are documented in the following summary chapters.
This work would not be possible without the generous aid of many contributors. Thank you to Alison Lynch for telling me her story. Mike Trazzera also provided his story and permission to feature video footage taken by him. Fellow Tornado Talk writer Jennifer Narramore provided critical aid in researching and compiling several of the stories. A sincere thanks as well to Elizabeth Goss-Kaplan, Jamieson Allen, NJDrone, David Gibson, Alyson Newman, and Ray Kulpa for permission to show their images and video.
During my survey and analysis, I compiled a variety of statistics regarding this tornado. These are listed below. Scroll further down to also view discrepancies between the various sources. It is important to note that the EF-scale numbers are derived from my own personal analysis and NOT official material.
Total Path Length (accounting for all twists and curves): 12.84 miles
Maximum Width: 1,330 yards (0.76 miles)
Time: 6:16-6:34 pm EDT (18 minutes)
Historical Significance: First F/EF3 in NJ since 1990 (31 years). First significant (F/EF2+) tornado in Gloucester County since 1960 (61 years).
Total damage cost: $64 million (2021 USD)
Total structures with reported damage: 563
Total structures that experienced tornadic (EF0+) winds: 2,035
Total residences that experienced tornadic (EF0+) winds: 1,914
Total non-residential structures (mostly outbuildings and large freestanding garages) that experienced tornadic (EF0+) winds: 264
Estimated area that experienced at least EF0 tornadic windspeeds (excluding the potential second tornado): 3,109 acres (4.9 square miles)
Residences that experienced EF0 tornadic winds: 1,684
Non-residential structures that experienced EF0 tornadic winds: 222
Residences rated EF1: 69
Non-residential structures rated EF1: 32
Estimated area that experienced at least EF1 tornadic windspeeds: 273.65 acres (0.4 square miles)
Residences rated EF2: 10
Non-residential structures rated EF2: 8
Estimated area that experienced at least EF2 tornadic windspeeds: 60.63 acres (0.1 square miles)
Residences rated EF3: 2
Non-residential structures rated EF3: 0
Estimated area that experienced EF3 tornadic windspeeds: 9.25 acres (0.015 square miles)
Corrected Coordinates Based on Personal Survey, Analysis of Ground Level, Aerial, and Satellite Imagery, as well as all Reliable Damage Reports:
Start: 39.6941 / -75.2318 End: 39.8509 / -75.1126
Start: 39.6769 / -75.25 End: 39.82 / -75.11
Path length: 12.37 miles
Width: 400 yards
Start Point or Two Tornadoes?
The exact start point is somewhat unclear. Per the National Weather Service (NWS), it was 4.5 miles NE of Woodstown along Lincoln Mill Road and the Salem/Gloucester County line. They documented small tree branches lying along the side of the street. The first issue is that there is no other visible sign of tornado damage until 1.7 miles NE of that spot. This is based both on a distinct gap in any reported damage, and high-quality aerial imagery from early November 2021. Faint signs of tornadic wind damage to tree branches began again 3.1 miles south of Mullica Hill.
The second piece of evidence that is perhaps the key to this discrepancy is a video taken by David Gibson. The footage shows a primary circulation developing into a tornado near Elk Road. Something else is visible when the camera pans to the south from timestamps 0:23-0:32. I enhanced that piece of footage and found that indeed this condensation was rotating and at times extending down to ground level. It appears very likely that this was not merely scud but a very brief, weak tornado. I plotted David’s position, and it confirmed that the location of the suspicious rotating funnel was overtop the initial damage point found by surveyors. This coincides with a small area of weak vegetation loss in November 2021 aerial imagery. Radar data also indicated this possibility. A diagram showing these various spots is included below. A big thanks to David for his help!
In light of this information, my initial start point is 3.1 miles south of Mullica Hill at 6:16 pm EDT, between Commissioners and Elk Roads.
The end location was also murky. The official survey has the track veering sharply east in its last moments and ending 0.3 miles NE of Deptford (the rounded down NCDC coordinates move it to 0.5 miles SE of the town center). This was due to the discovery of small tree branches blown down onto a road.
There is a great deal of evidence that contradicts this narrative. There was continuous minor damage to structures and numerous trees downed up until 2.0 miles north of Deptford just across the NJ Turnpike. The TPHL Radar took one-minute interval scans of the storm, which were intercepting the vortex during dissipation at only 300-350 feet above the ground. The data entirely ruled out the possibility of the tornado veering left since the circulation is very consistent in track and follows the aerial imagery and damage reports. Finally, a security camera (footage embedded below) captured the dying circulation from Highway 55, which similarly contradicts a sharp veer to the east. It’s worth noting that radar data also showed strong Rear Flank Downdraft (RFD) in the area of the branches downed northeast of Deptford, explaining that damage.
This is a time lapse from a NJ road webcam that I made of the Mullica Hill, NJ tornado as it was weakening and went through Deptford, NJ.— Colin Davis (@not_colind) September 2, 2021
In the time lapse, the weakening tornado will appear on the left and then it lifts as it goes further away from the camera. pic.twitter.com/Jy91Mlwtzx
The NWS Mount Holly and the NCDC list a maximum width of 400 yards. My personal survey and analysis indicated a maximum width of 1,330 yards (0.76 miles).
The NCDC lists a total damage cost of just $5 million. According to county officials in a South Jersey Times publication, it was $64 million. This included $53.2 million in damage to homes and businesses, and over $10 million for repairs to the electrical grid. Considering that preliminary damage estimates for just one business hit in Mantua were up to $5 million, the NCDC total is unlikely to be correct.
Gray, Matt. “Costs Exceed $64m for Mega Tornado That Ripped through N.J. County during Ida.” NJ.com, 29 Oct. 2021. https://www.nj.com/gloucester-county/2021/10/costs-exceed-64m-for-mega-tornado-that-ripped-through-nj-county-during-ida.html
Gray, Matt. “As towns recover from tornado, hundreds seek assistance from FEMA.” South Jersey Times (NJ), SJBD Main ed., sec. A, 18 Sep. 2021, p. 001 (online NewsBank).
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