Update: Mattituck High School’s gym, tennis courts damaged by tornado as winds reached 75-85 mph

Update (7:30 p.m.): The National Weather Service confirmed Monday an EF0 tornado touched down in Mattituck for about three minutes when a strong thunderstorm blew across the area late Sunday night.

A NWS survey team confirmed the tornado in coordination with Suffolk County Fire Rescue and Emergency Services, according to an afternoon update.

The EF0 is the weakest on the scale of 0-5 on the Enhanced Fujita scale.

A NWS report shows estimated peak wind for the tornado at 75-85 mph. Its path length was 2.1 miles and the path width at 75 yards. The start time was 11:17 p.m. with an end time of 11:20 p.m.

The NWS report is preliminary and subject to change pending final review.

In an interview Monday evening, Mattituck Superintendent Shawn Petretti confirmed the tornado touched down on the school’s campus, causing “extensive” damage to the tennis courts, fencing, nets and scoreboards as well as the roof of the secondary school’s main gymnasium.

“You could see daylight from the gym in certain sections,” Mr. Petretti said, describing the damage. 

He was alerted to the damage early Monday by custodial crews that observed the tennis courts and discovered the damage in the gym. “Thankfully no one was in the building when this happened,” the superintendent said.

Roof repairs to that part of the gym were slated to take place under the district’s five-year plan and the gym floor was recently recoated this summer.

Schools were closed Monday (and will be Tuesday) for Rosh Hashanah and Mr. Petretti said the district “fully intends” to reopen Wednesday. “We will be without the use of our gymnasium until the appropriate repairs can be made,” he said.

That could potentially impact the school’s homecoming calendar, which included the annual Tucker Bowl, bonfire and pep rally. 

“It’s one of the highlights of the year,” he said, adding that school administrators are currently working to either reschedule some events or move them outdoors. The homecoming games — boys and girls soccer — will proceed as scheduled Friday under the lights, Mr. Petretti said.

Tennis practices and matches will also be impacted until the district can repair the courts. “We’ll be working with the community and our neighboring schools if need be and intend to keep the program going,” Mr. Petretti said.

The superintendent declined to estimate how much repairs could cost but noted that they will be covered by insurance.

“At this point we’re used to Mother Nature throwing curveballs at us,” he said. “We’ll make the most of it and again I’m just thankful no one was in the building and no one was hurt.”

The NWS issued a detailed report Monday night, detailing how the tornado first touched down at Juniper Hill farms at about 11:17 p.m., damaging a greenhouse and downing a couple large trees on the property. It tracked northeast across a one-mile stretch of remote wooded area.

The tornado appeared to touch down between Wickham Avenue and Mary’s Road to the north of Pike Street, the NWS said. A large maple tree was sheared a few feet from its base. The NWS said that area saw the most prominent damage path at about 50 to 75 yards in width.

The tornado continued eastward across the high school track “twisting and damaging a large scoreboard, overturning metal benches, and laying down a 100-foot section of wind fence on the north side of the adjacent tennis courts in a northerly direction.”

The tornado continued east over the high school, “ripping up large sections of asphalt roofing material over one of the main buildings.” Winds were likely in the 75-85 mph range at that point.

The tornado existed east over an area of homes on Village Lake and caused significant tree and fence damage to several homes before lifting around 11:20 p.m. No damage was spotted farther east.

PSEG Long Island was reporting all the outages from the storm in the area have been restored as of 7 p.m. Monday.

Lighting over Long Island Sound Sunday night. (Credit: Jeremy Garretson)

Original Story: The National Weather Service is investigating whether a tornado touched down in Mattituck overnight in the area of Old Sound Avenue and west toward Sound Avenue.

Nelson Vaz, a meteorologist at the NWS’s Upton office, said Monday morning: “We have reports of a possible tornado and we are working with Suffolk emergency services to determine what it was. … We sent someone out to the scene this morning as well, and people are sending us pictures. We will go through all radar data and talk to people and make a call on this later today.”

A public information statement from the NWS at 11:49 a.m. said that a final assessment would be completed with a public statement by 6 p.m.

The Southold Highway Department spent the early morning hours clearing the western end of Old Sound Avenue. Highway Superintendent Dan Goodwin said the path appeared to have gone directly over the street and headed east to Mattituck High School. Mr. Goodwin said he got the first call around 1:30 a.m.

The street was littered with branches Monday morning and one home had a large section of a tree resting on the roof.

Betsy Kennedy, a resident of Old Sound Avenue, said: “I was watching TV around midnight when the wind went crazy. It was like being in a blender. Then the power went out.”

PSEG Long Island was reporting multiple outages in the area still on Monday morning with 354 customers affected.

The NWS had issued a severe thunderstorm warning Sunday night at about 11:14 p.m. for the East End.

Tornadoes, while rare, are not entirely uncommon in the region. Confirmed tornadoes have been reported on Fishers Island in 2018 and Mattituck in 2016.