Monday, January 13th, 2014 by John Phillips
HAMPTON —Amy Scherrer remembers hearing the trees snapping around her home. Then came a crash upstairs and another crash through the window of the living room where her daughter was with two of her friends. "It just all happened so fast," she said. "They pretty much ran … we all kind of met in the hallway." The four slipped into a bathroom and then into a coat closet where they waited until the crashing stopped.
Scherrer didn't know at the time that a tornado had plowed through the backyard of her home in the first block of Cabell Lane in the Fox Hill neighborhood in Hampton. It was one of three EF0, or "very weak" tornadoes that hit the region Saturday afternoon, the National Weather Service confirmed on Sunday. The other two tornadoes were in Isle of WightCounty.
No injuries were reported. The Hampton tornado hit the area of Cabell Lane and Routten Road between 3:50 to 3:53 p.m. Saturday. It traveled east-northeast toward the marsh areas and into the bay. The tornado swept through the area in minutes, snapping down trees and damaging homes in its path. It was about 1.25 miles long and 75 yards wide, according to Mike Rusnak, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wakefield. It traveled at about 50 mph, he said, with 80 mph winds. "It was a quick-hitter," he said. "It was moving very fast." Rusnak said that shingles were blown off about 10 to 20 percent of the homes in the area, and a handful of other structures received more severe damage, including the roof of the Hampton City Schools maintenance compound. It destroyed the Fox Hill Athletic Association building on Grundland Drive, he said, and it also blew out the window of an automobile.
Shortly before the tornado in Hampton, two other EF0 tornadoes swept through Isle of Wight County, snapping off several trees and damaging a handful of structures, according to the weather service. Near the Morgarts Beach area, northwest of Smithfield, a tornado touched down between 3:32 and 3:34 p.m. Saturday. It was just as intense as the Hampton tornado with wind speeds of about 80 mph, but most of the damage was to trees, according to the weather service. That tornado was about 1.4 miles long and 100 yards wide.
Between 3:32 to 3:35 p.m., a second tornado hit the county about 3 miles southeast of the Isle of Wight Courthouse. That tornado was less intense with wind speeds of about 70 to 75 mph. It was about 2 miles long and 50 yards wide. Trees were also the main casualty in that tornado, although there was some damage to roofs and a few structures. Rusnak said straight-line winds were to blame for other damage in the region caused by the storm. The north end of Gloucester County was hit particularly hard with winds gusting up to 60 miles per hour, he said. Several homes were damaged and numerous trees were blown down in that area. But the straight-line winds were not considered a derecho, like the storm that swept through the region in June 2012, he said. Saturday's storm developed quickly over the area, while derechos typically form more slowly and can travel for hundreds of miles, he said. Rusnak said Saturday's storm formed when a cold front met up with a warm, humid air mass, causing instability in the atmosphere.
Several other factors, such as changes in the direction of the wind, can provide ingredients for a tornado to form. "There's a lot of factors that go into whether … a storm will produce a tornado or not," he said. Rusnak said the weather service looks at the type of damage and debris to determine if a storm was a tornado. Typically, a tornado will cause trees to snap off at different heights, he said, and debris will be blown in many directions, not just one. An EF0 is the least intense of tornadoes on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which ranges from EF0 to EF5. AN EF5 tornado would have wind gusts of more than 200 mph. Residents of Fox Hill spent much of the day Sunday combing through the neighborhood picking up debris and helping out their neighbors.
Stacey Cole, who lives next door to the Scherrer home, said she was surprised to see so many show up to help rebuild her fence and remove trees and branches from her yard. "I was blessed. … I probably had 30 people show up," she said. Despite the damage, residents said they were very fortunate that no one was hurt. "I'm just thankful that we were all OK," Scherrer said. "That was the main thing."
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