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National Weather Service confirms tornado hit Centreville and Tysons

Tysons tornado location Thursday. (NWS)
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The National Weather Service confirmed that tornadoes struck Centreville and Tysons in Fairfax County on Thursday evening as a powerful storm system swept across the region. The tornadoes caused minor damage but no injuries.

The first tornado, rated EF-0 on the 0-to-5 scale for twister intensity, touched down in Centreville at 8:21 p.m. Thursday near the end of Batavia Drive behind Cub Run Elementary School, the Weather Service wrote in its survey of the damage released Monday. The twister, packing winds up to 85 mph, was on the ground for just one minute along an 80-yard path before lifting. Its maximum width was 30 yards.

A second tornado, also rated EF-0, touched down at 8:41 p.m. along Chain Bridge Road, just northwest of Tysons Corner Center, the Weather Service reported Friday afternoon.

The twister was on the ground for only a minute, the survey said, producing winds up to 85 mph along a 200-yard path. Its maximum width was 50 yards.

Severe storms bring damage, possible tornadoes in Fairfax County

Damage was reported at two gas stations along Chain Bridge Road. The Sunoco station at the corner of Chain Bridge Road and International Drive suffered serious damage to its canopy. “Winds lifted upwards under the canopy and caused the northwest corner of the canopy to collapse on the service station building,” the damage survey said. The tornado also tossed around “packs of water and other small items,” the survey said.

The tornado also damaged the adjacent Mobil station.

At the station, “[a] garage door facing northwest was blown 10 to 15 feet away from the building,” the damage survey said. “Metal paneling at the top of the roof along the northwest and southeast facing sides of the building were damaged and tossed away from the building. A small canopy hanging over the entrance of the service station was mangled beyond repair. … Flying debris also caused at least 6-8 windows in the front of the Mobil station to shatter.”

There were also social media reports of downed trees in the area.

One video on social media captured what appears to be a 30- to 50-foot-wide funnel moving through the Tysons commercial district:

The damage survey said the tornado “likely dissipated in the Tyson’s Corner Mall parking lot.”

Possible tornado debris landed on the Silver Line Metro track near the Tysons Corner station, causing rail delays and single-tracking, according to a tweet from WMATA.

Rotation associated with the responsible thunderstorm, as indicated by radar, suggests the storm was spinning along a line from roughly Warrenton to Chevy Chase, on its transit through the Tysons area. A thunderstorm can rotate without producing a tornado and, in this case, a touchdown was only confirmed in Centreville and Tysons.

The Weather Service reported “[m]ultiple softwood pine trees surrounding the end of Batavia Drive were impacted/damaged” by the Centreville tornado, “with several snapped and others uprooted.” It did not find damage to nearby residences or structures.

However, Karyn Miller, a Capital Weather Gang follower on Facebook who lives in the Sully Station area of Centreville around where the tornado was confirmed, commented that the storm “ripped some … siding off the chimney and a couple other small places” of her home. She also wrote that her propane grill was moved four feet across the deck.

Tornadoes in March in the Washington region are not terribly common. On average, the region sees about one day with tornadoes every decade in March, according to Ian Livingston, a Capital Weather Gang contributor.

More generally, tornadoes occur routinely in the region during the late spring and summer months. They are generally small, receiving EF0 or EF1 ratings, although an EF2 tornado caused substantial damage in Annapolis last September. Before Thursday, the last tornadoes to sweep inside the Beltway occurred in July, when EF1 and EF0 twisters touched down in Arlington and the District, causing minor damage.

A storm cloud was seen in Chantilly, Va., as a tornado warning was in place for Fairfax County on March 31. (Video: The Washington Post)

Thursday’s tornado came on the third day of a severe storm outbreak that swept from the Plains on Tuesday, through the South on Wednesday and to the East Coast on Thursday. The Weather Service received hundreds of damage reports from the barrage of thunderstorms from Texas to New York. Nearly 60 tornadoes were reported over the three days, with the greatest concentration in Mississippi and Alabama on Wednesday.

Ahead of the severe weather in the Mid-Atlantic on Thursday, the National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm watch early in the afternoon highlighting the potential for damaging straight-line winds and mentioning the possibility of a couple tornadoes. The Weather Service had placed the Washington region in an “enhanced risk” zone for severe thunderstorms.

In addition to Fairfax County, several tornadoes were reported in western Pennsylvania and in central North Carolina on Thursday, including one in the Raleigh-Durham area. Tornado warnings were issued near Richmond on Thursday afternoon, but there was no confirmation that a twister actually touched down.