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Tornado rips apart buildings in Bucks County as potent storms cross Philly region

What the National Weather Service called a “confirmed, dangerous tornado” Thursday evening brought potentially “life-threatening” conditions to some areas.

The scene at Faulkner Auto Group service center after a apparent tornado hit in Trevose.
The scene at Faulkner Auto Group service center after a apparent tornado hit in Trevose.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

» UPDATE: Weather service is investigating 14 tornado reports from Bucks County to the Jersey Shore

A tornado evidently ripped apart several buildings in Bensalem Township on Thursday as a potent front set off severe thunderstorms and multiple reports of tornadoes in the Philadelphia region, with areas of Bucks County along the Delaware River and adjacent New Jersey especially hard hit.

Five people were injured, but no deaths were reported, said Fred Harran, Bensalem’s director of public safety.

An evacuation center had been established at the Neshaminy Mall near where many homes suffered wind damage, Harran said.

The American Red Cross opened a shelter at Neshaminy High School and reported that as of 2 a.m. Friday four people were spending the night.

What the National Weather Service had called a “confirmed, dangerous tornado” struck the area Thursday evening, and buildings were heavily damaged at a car dealership and elsewhere in the Trevose section of the township. Numerous downed trees were reported in New Hope and Lumberville.

Heavy rains pounded that area, along with parts of Northeast Philadelphia and neighboring South Jersey, setting off flash flood warnings.

Peco reported about 8,000 power outages, most of them in Bucks County; PSE&G reported 1,300 without power.

A tornado watch was in effect for most of Pennsylvania and New Jersey and all of Delaware until 9 p.m. Thursday as the atmosphere appeared primed for a spell of mayhem. Indeed it was.

The weather service said that on Friday it would conduct “several storm surveys” to determine precisely what caused all the damages.

But along with being destructive, the storms also were capricious.

A severe thunderstorm struck parts of Northeast Philadelphia and Burlington County Thursday evening. However, perhaps strangely, in the rest of Philly and its surroundings, the tornado warnings and forecasts were little more than sound and fury that didn’t signify very much. In fact, there wasn’t much in the way of sound.

“In many areas it didn’t even thunder,” said Bob Larson, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. In fact, the Phillies managed to get in a doubleheader in South Philly that started just after noon and ended after 6 p.m.

Larson said it’s likely that rains in the morning, and cloud cover through most of the day, deprived some of the energy from potential storms.

In addition, the line of storms that plowed across the state during the day didn’t hold together, and thunderstorms literally spun off from the core.

The storms were set off by a powerful cold front that is about to give the region a taste of September. Given the soggy air mass in place over Philadelphia, meteorologists saw the potential for widespread severe storms.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

Larson said that the tornado reports were an indication that the storms were breaking off into individual cells.

Some of them were quite nasty.

In all likelihood the weather service will send investigators Friday to determine if they were, in fact, tornadoes, said Dean Iovino, a lead meteorologist at the weather service’s Mount Holly office.

The one that hit Bensalem almost certainly was. “I’ve been doing this for 34 years,” Harran said earlier. “I’ve never seen this kind of damage before.”

— Staff writer Robert Moran contributed to this article.