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By Jacob Feuerstein '23, edited by Hillary Creedon
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  • Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
  • Environment
  • Nature
  • Planet

Cornell atmospheric science student Jacob Feuerstein '23 helped the local National Weather Service (NWS) office in Binghamton, N.Y., survey and identify a tornado that impacted the nearby town of Dryden, N.Y. last Monday, June 21. A summer intern at the The NWS Binghamton office, Jacob holds a deep love for meteorology and aspires to one day join the NWS. In addition to his studies, Jacob is a NOAA Hollings Scholar, and holds part-time jobs at several weather companies. Around campus, he serves as president of the Cornell Weather club and does research on flash flooding with advisor Arthur DeGaetano, director of undergraduate studies for atmospheric sciences. Here, Jacob recounts how he identified the rare, local tornado event by both watching the radar in real time and embarking on an unofficial post-storm survey.

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I'm interning at the Binghamton NWS (BGM), and spent Monday with my eyes on the radar and my ears on county police scanners to listen for thunder storm damage that I could report to the office. Around 5:15 p.m., I noticed broad rotation in a cell embedded in a severe warning segment of a large My classmate Luke Langford '22, also an earth and atmospheric sciences major, texted me a video that he took from Snee Hall (shown in header) of what appeared to be a rotating wall cloud a few minutes after 5:15 p.m. I considered this enough evidence to message my contact at BGM and voice my concerns that the storm might become tornadic. My contact asked that I share the video with the offices' entire internal message board, which I did, and he told me the radar operators were considering issuing a tornado warning. However, with that radar still looking a bit sloppy, the radar operators compromised and issued a "tornado possible" severe thunderstorm warning for the area.

By 5:35 p.m., as the mesocyclone passed south of Ithaca, moving northeast, I noticed rotation had tightened up a fair amount and was associated with a telltale notch in the QLCS. A few minutes later, I took the following screenshots:

The cell was never tornado warned, and we never got any reports of damage on scanners, social media or to our phones. But after I left work for the day at 6 p.m., I still felt that I had just witnessed a possible radar tornado signature over Varna and Dryden. So I picked up Julian Arnheim '22 and Julianna Christopoulos '22, also earth and atmospheric sciences majors, and we drove to the location I thought the couplet may have been  over a farm on Irish Settlement Road. During the drive, we saw nearly no damage the entire time, which was surprising. But when we reached almost the exact location that I pinned on the map, we suddenly saw huge limbs and fallen trees littering the farm property, with a grove of snapped softwoods that Julian took a picture of:

I was pretty sure at this point we were seeing tornado damage, so I sent Julian's photo to my contact at BGM explaining my unofficial survey and suggesting they come see for themselves. Prior to my outreach, BGM had not received any other local reports, which was unusual for a tornado, but they were intrigued by the picture of the snapped trees.

On Tuesday, they sent a small team out to survey the area. I accompanied them around Dryden and we found spotty damage in a line that matched up fairly well to the path of the rotation, but nothing concrete enough to call it anything other than straight line wind damage. (We were unable to directly survey the snapped trees in the photo due to farm animals in the field.) After a couple of hours, I left the team explaining that they didn't think there was enough evidence to call it a tornado. The event had mostly passed over state forest land, and what little damage was visible from the road wasn't immediately telling.

But apparently, within five minutes of me leaving, the team stumbled upon a house on Route 38 that had sustained much more significant damage  almost every tree was snapped, and a shed was destroyed. The snapped trees and long grass showed clear convergence, and so finally enough evidence was found to officially confirm that an  tornado occurred in Dryden, N.Y. on June 21st, touching down in Yellow Barn State Forest.

Header video: A video taken by Luke Langford '22, earth and atmospheric sciences major, taken from the top of Snee Hall of what appears to be a rotating wall cloud. 

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