Severe Weather

Ocean, bay offer RI some tornado protection

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Tornadoes are not frequent visitors to Southern New England, but when they do touch down, they can leave quite a mark.

It’s been about 10 years since an EF1 tornado ripped through parts of Rhode Island’s East Bay.  

On July 23, 2008 a waterspout formed just off Rumstick Point in Barrington; it then moved into Warren tearing up trees, damaging homes, and even blowing around trailers.

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Dorianne Souza was working at the Warren Center on that afternoon, and even though she never saw the tornado, she remembers the aftermath. 

“I looked up Harris Avenue and there were trees everywhere, branches everywhere. It looks like splinters, toothpicks all the way up the road and I said oh my God, there really was a tornado in Warren,” Souza said.

The August 7, 1986 Providence tornado was part of an outbreak in which three tornadoes touched down in less than 24 hours.

It started in Cranston and then smashed into downtown Providence leaving behind a path of destruction including at the Providence YMCA. 

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With many years now under her belt at the Boston office of the National Weather Service, meteorologist Elanor Vallier-Talbot was in her first year on the job and on her way back from vacation.

“They said something about a Providence tornado and we looked at each other like……oh really?“

The storm database from the National Centers for Environmental Information goes back to 1950, and it only has 11 confirmed Rhode Island tornadoes.  

Vallier-Talbot dug through some older reports which include a destructive tornado that passed just south of Providence in 1838, an 1882 Johnston tornado, and a northwest Rhode Island tornado from the 1700s described in the book “Historic storms of New England” by Sidney Perley.

Glenn Field, warning coordination meteorologist at the Boston office of the National Weather Service, says that while tornadoes can happen in Rhode Island, the Atlantic Ocean and Narragansett Bay do offer some protection.

“I think the main reason is the marine influence. In other words, the water has a cooling effect, and the air coming over the water into Rhode Island tends to weaken the storms,” Field said.

Over the years there have been quite a few instances in which funnel clouds have been seen rotating in the sky over Southern New England but it doesn't officially count as a tornado unless it makes contact with the ground.


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