Possible Tornado Sweeps Through Southern New England

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A tornado probably hit parts of Southern New England as the region grappled with rain and flooding on Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service said.

The agency’s office in Southern New England said late Wednesday on X, formerly Twitter, that its staff planned to survey storm damage in Connecticut and Rhode Island early Thursday. It said preliminary radar data and video evidence suggested that a tornado had occurred in the area.

Preliminary reports indicate no one was injured and that 60 to 80 trees were toppled or had their tops sheared off, Bryce Williams, a Weather Service forecaster, said by phone early Thursday.

Mr. Williams said it was possible that more than one tornado swept through Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts on Wednesday. He said storm surveyors will look to see whether damaged trees were twisted out of shape — a sign of damage from “tornadic” rather than “straight line” winds.

Formally confirming tornadoes is helpful for meteorological record keeping, but tornadic winds are not necessarily more dangerous.

“There’s kind of a general public myth that all really strong wind damage comes from tornadoes,” Mr. Williams said. “But that’s not true. Straight line winds can do as much or more damage.”

He said the storm system that has brought heavy rain and flooding to New England this week is linked to a low-pressure system in the Great Lakes and has nothing to do with Hurricane Lee, a Category 2 hurricane that was more than 300 miles southwest of Bermuda early Thursday morning.

But as Lee continues moving north, the dangerous surf and rip currents affecting the Southeast are forecast to affect New England over the next couple of days, the Weather Service said in a forecast on Wednesday. It said there would also be a rising risk of more rain, wind and coastal flooding.

More than seven million people in coastal New England were under tropical storm watches as dawn approached on Thursday, according to the Weather Service. A hurricane watch was also in effect for more than 100,000 Maine residents.

Scientists are not yet able to determine a link between climate change and the frequency or strength of tornadoes. But researchers say that tornadoes seem to be occurring in greater clusters in recent years, and that the area of the country known as Tornado Alley, a region where most tornadoes occur, seems to be shifting eastward.

Mr. Williams said he was not aware of any related pattern in the part of New England where he monitors the weather. This year his patch has seen eight confirmed tornadoes, he said. Last year there were none.

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