Tornado with winds of 140mph tears through Virginia Beach damaging dozens of homes

Virginia Beach has declared a state of emergency after a tornado tore through the coastal city on Sunday.

Dozens of homes suffered damage when the twister touched down around 6pm local time. No injuries were reported.

The National Weather Service’s Wakefield, Virginia, office confirmed on Monday morning that the tornado was rated at EF-3, with wind estimates of 140 mph (225 kph) to 150 mph (240 kph). It pushed well-built homes off foundations, collapsed exterior walls, and tore entire roofs off according to an agency statement.

The National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for the city earlier on Sunday, along with the threat of pea-sized hailstones.

Heavy rains throughout the night may still cause localized flooding, the Virginia Beach City manager warned.

Several schools, including Cox High School, Great Neck Middle School and John B. Dey Elementary School, were closed on Monday due to damage and road closures. Clean-up crews were out in the city this morning to deal with uprooted trees and power outages.

“I urge everyone to stay safe after the severe weather threat has ended in Virginia Beach. In the meantime, 311 is available 24 hours a day for questions and reporting non-emergency conditions,” tweeted Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin.

Virginia Beach Director of Emergency Management David Topczynski said on Monday that the city got lucky because the storm came in Sunday during a music festival, when an emergency operation center was already set up, allowing for a swift response. He said 115 damaged structures were identified on Sunday, and more are expected to be logged Monday.

Virginia Beach’s weekend storms are generally associated with the same large-scale area of low pressure over the Great Lakes, NWS Meteorologist Eric Seymour told The Associated Press.

The agency confirmed another tornado over the weekend in Florida in a weekend filled with hazardous weather across the US, including high water on the Mississippi River which tested flood defenses in Iowa and Illinois as it crests in the area Monday.

A powerful tornado also touched down in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, on Saturday as a storm system swept through the state bringing intense rain and powerful winds that overturned cars and damaged homes.

Damage from Sunday's EF-3 rated tornado is cleaned up in the Great Neck area of Virginia Beach, Va., on Monday May 1, 2023 (AP)
Damage from Sunday's EF-3 rated tornado is cleaned up in the Great Neck area of Virginia Beach, Va., on Monday May 1, 2023 (AP)

It is unclear whether the climate crisis is making tornadoes more frequent, and/or more intense. Scientists have observed changes in the basic ingredients of thunderstorms as the planet heats up, and extreme storms are becoming more common.

A study in 2014, by the National Severe Storms Laboratory, found that in the past 50 years, clusters of tornadoes have become more common.

A 2018 study then found that over the past four decades, the US’s “Tornado Alley” appears to be shifted towards the East Coast, away from typical paths through Kansas and Oklahoma, and into states such as Kentucky, Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri.

With Associated Press