Christine Kurtz couldn’t tell if her husband was joking when he said the storm clouds above their farm had started churning, spinning in opposition directions.
Then the funnel cloud formed — fast.
Kurtz grabbed her teenage sons and sought shelter in the family’s barn. Over the eerie whistling of the wind, she couldn’t hear how much damage was being done outside as the tornado tore across their land.
“I just wanted it to be over,” she said.
The National Weather Service in State College confirmed Friday an EF1 tornado with wind speeds around 100 mph touched down Thursday evening on Nittany Farm, a property the family is renting, just west of Route 322 in Harris Township.
Metal roofing was peeled off outbuildings and flung hundreds of yards, leaving divots where it ripped chunks of turf from the ground before finally wrapping around trees and a utility pole.
Trees were downed and limbs were snapped from winds blowing in every direction. Farm house windows were shattered. A pair of garden shears was driven into a wooden board on the porch.
Kurtz’s husband, Robert Kelley, watched as the funnel cloud formed and made landfall above Route 322 and started toward his house. He saw the tornado rip a tree from a retaining pond and lift it 50 feet into the air before he decided to take shelter with his wife and children.
“It formed really fast,” Kurtz said. “Whenever the cloud was starting, it was still — there was no noise. But whenever we ran into the barn, all I could hear the eerie whistling of the wind. I came out to see all this. All this damage.”
The tornado was part of a system of severe thunderstorms that pushed through the region Thursday, inundating roadways with inches of water, leading to the evacuation of a home and apartments and filling basements across the region with water.
Word of the tornado spread Thursday night, before it was confirmed by weather officials, thanks in part to a video taken by Garrett Bastardi, son of former AccuWeather employee Joe Bastardi.
“You could just see the clouds start rotating, rushing up into one area, and within a matter of 10 to 15 seconds, you just saw it become a funnel and start rapidly rotating,” Bastardi said. “You could just see it. It was on the ground.”
Bastardi lives in a neighborhood near the farm and close to the path of the tornado.
“All I could really describe it as is violent,” he said.
Rich Grumm, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in State College, visited the farm Friday to inspect the damage. Grumm was able to confirm a tornado had touched down.
“We get a few every year in Pennsylvania,” Grumm said. “A handful of EF-0 and EF-1 (tornadoes) are pretty common. But in Centre County, we can go many years without seeing one. We can go a decade.”
An EF-1 tornado struck near Woodward at the eastern tip of Centre County during a storm in 2007. More than 100 trees were uprooted or toppled by wind gusts reaching between 85 and 95 mph.
A tornado is considered be an EF-1 if wind speeds are between 86 and 110 mph. An EF-0 tornado has wind speeds between 65 and 85 mph, according to the National Weather Service. Tornado intensity is ranked on the enhanced Fugita scale.
The tornado Thursday had a maximum wind speed of 100 mph with a path of damage measured at about a mile long and 75 feet wide in spots.
The NWS said the last observed damage was in a neighborhood along Cedar Run Road across Route 45, about a mile from the farm.