Powerful storm posed tornado threat

No reports of a tornado, but there was flooding and a funnel cloud.

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Updated at 3:45 pm

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Martha’s Vineyard Monday. The warning expired at noon. The alert urged Vineyarders to “take shelter now in a basement or an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building. If you are outdoors,” the alert stated, “in a mobile home, or in a vehicle, move to the closest substantial shelter and protect yourself from flying debris.”

Bart Jarek sent The Times a photo of what appeared to be a funnel cloud near the Gay Head Lighthouse. “I am writing from my car outside the Aquinnah library, using their generous free Wi-Fi,” he wrote. “I witnessed the strong weather front approaching while parked near the lighthouse, and captured what may have been a funnel cloud.”

Later in the afternoon, staff at the Norton office of the National Weather Service decided it was indeed a funnel cloud, according to meteorologist Kristie Smith. 

Jarek went on to write that he saw downpours, wind, and lightning, but not an actual tornado.

Earlier, there were reports of possible waterspouts off the Vineyard. The sky over Vineyard Haven went twilight-dark. There were rumbles of thunder and heavy downpours. Beach Road and Water Street, including Five Corners, flooded. The NWS reported a 45 mph wind gust on Smiths Way in Edgartown just after 11:30 am.

At just past noon, the National Weather Service hadn’t received “any other information of tornadic activity,” Smith told The Times. At that time, Smith said the images from Aquinnah The Times posted (Jarek’s) could also depict a scud, a type of cloud that dangles below a storm but doesn’t rotate. Video is key in figuring out if rotation is present, Smith said. 

Jarek told The Times he didn’t take any video footage, just stills. Smith said the National Weather Service would wait to see if any other accounts of possible tornado activity were reported, and also if damage reports came in. Smith said “it was a pretty strong thunderstorm” that swept the Cape and Islands. Between 1 and 1:30 pm, Smith said, the meteorologists in Norton formed a consensus that what manifested off Aquinnah was a funnel cloud, which is “associated with a rotating column of air.” National Weather Service staff in Norton were unable to say definitively if it was a waterspout or a tornado, however. 

“If it doesn’t directly connect with the ground, then we don’t call it a tornado,” she said. The same holds true about a waterspout connecting with a body of water. They didn’t have enough evidence to say there was a touchdown on either land or water, but they did feel enough information came to them to call it a funnel cloud.

“High winds support it was a really strong system,” she said. For instance, in Dennis, she said, a gust of 61 mph was reported, and in Calumet, a 63 mph gust was reported. 

At 2:50 pm, when The Times spoke with Smith, she said, “Any substantial weather is over.”