Editor’s Note: The following story is based on an updated National Weather Service damage survey report released Saturday evening. It provided the most detailed account of the EF3 tornado that hit Bensalem on Thursday night. The Mount Holly, New Jersey-based weather service had five survey teams investigating damage reports from the Lehigh Valley to the Jersey shore as a result of Thursday’s storms. They confirmed nine separate tornadoes, including three in Bucks County.
That’s how long it took a rare EF3 tornado to spread a 3.5-mile swath of destruction that began in northeast Philadelphia before jumping the county border into Bensalem where it did the most damage.
It was 7:04 p.m. Thursday when the tornado touched down near Southampton Road, Kelvin Avenue and Trevose Road. It uprooted and blew down large limbs from a few softwood and hardwood trees before crossing County Line Road into the Trevose section of Bensalem.
The path continued between Trevose Road in Bucks County and Peyton Street in Philadelphia damaging more trees before crossing Lukens Street, heading briefly into the northern tip of the city’s Poquessing Valley Park in before crossing back into Bensalem.
More tornado coverage:The night three tornadoes ripped through Bucks
Next hit was the Beechwood Estates in Trevose, a neighborhood between Somerton and Trevose roads, where it caused minor damage to homes and blew down several sections of vinyl fencing.
During its first few minutes of life, the twister had not reached its top speed of 140 miles per hour. But things would pick up as it approached Somerton Road in Trevose.
The wind intensified and its path widened substantially as it moved into the Metropolitan Industrial Center off Somerton Road.
Five wood power poles snapped near the ground along Somerton Road and at the SUEZ Water Company. Seven warehouse buildings northeast of Somerton Road sustained at least minor damage.
Northtec in the 2500 block of Metropolitan Drive was the hardest hit building in the complex. It sustained substantial structural damage. Large sections of roofing material were blown away. The wind force blew out garage bay doors and windows.
Roof-mounted HVAC units were shifted or blown off buildings. Open bay doors caused an interior wall collapse. In the parking lot, a sedan was lifted and flipped like a Hot Wheels toy. A steel flag pole was flattened into the ground.
A nearby cell tower stood its ground, but the winds took all the antennas on it.
After the EF3 — the first in Pennsylvania since 2004 — was done with the industrial center, the tornado shifted southeast into the Concord Park and Linconia neighborhoods that sit off Old Lincoln Highway between Street Road and Route 1. There was damage to homes along Carter Road, and tree damage along Carter and Sussex roads north of Buckfield Terrace.
More about the Bensalem tornado:‘Not in this neighborhood’: Tornado no one expected hits Bensalem’s Concord Park, Rockhill Drive
Here the tornado reached its widest point roughly three-tenths of a mile swallowing more debris it came across.
As the storm crossed the Pennsylvania Turnpike, an overhead exit sign was blown off. It was found a half mile away.
Just north of the turnpike, an uprooted tree in a parking lot caused minor damage to a hotel. Slightly north of the turnpike and south of East Street Road a large billboard was blown over. The roof of a small utility building was sheered off.
At the Toscana 52 restaurant on Street Road, at the northern edge of the tornado, chain link fencing flattened and a few small trees in the parking lot were uprooted.
The winds intensified again, but the storm’s damage path narrowed as it moved onto its next target: the Faulkner Automotive Group dealerships next door.
The four of the six dealership showrooms on Street Road were significantly damaged. The Buick/GMC showroom sustained the worst of it.
Most of the showroom’s roof was blown off. Every window and every door was gone.
The exterior walls showed signs of structural fractures as a result of stress from the winds. Roof HVAC units were tossed into the parking lot behind the building. All the dealership signs near the main road were blown apart.
New and used vehicles sustained significant damage from either flying debris or after winds tossed them around.
The tornado next pushed toward the dealership`s main service garage, where the most significant damage occurred.
The southwestern portion of the building was flattened after most exterior walls collapsed and the roof blew off. Most inside walls were still standing. The roof HVAC units were tossed off of the building. One unit landed nearly 200 yards downstream.
The damage lessened somewhat at the eastern end, where portions of the exterior walls were damaged and almost every garage bay door was blown apart. A small pickup truck was crushed under a collapsed exterior wall.
The wind rushed through the garage area taking with it car parts and tools, which were later located downstream from the building. Large pieces of flying debris flattened vehicles near the main garage building. The winds lifted other vehicles into the air then dropped them.
The tornado’s next target was the Weisser Homes and Penn Valley Terrace mobile home parks located behind Faulkner off Old Lincoln Highway. It cut through a thick wall of mature trees stripping most down to their bare snapped trunks.
At one point, the winds carried and then dropped a large storage container filled with car parts it took from the Faulkner service garage parking over the woods.
Multiple mobile homes sustained some damage. Among the worst was an uninhabited home the wind lifted then smashed into the ground. A double-wide mobile home had a large portion of its roof blown off. Throughout the back-to-back mobile home parks, trees were toppled, snapped, uprooted and twisted.
After the storm crossed Old Lincoln Highway at Rockhill Road, its damage path narrowed significantly and it started to slow its wrath.
It passed over the Walmart and Lowe’s shopping center, then the Target-Home Depot shopping center on Rockhill Road.
No structural damage was found in the buildings there, but many small trees were snapped and uprooted in the large parking lot area and in a line of trees just north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike interchange. Exit ramp signs were blown down in the interchange area.
The tornado continued east-southeast into Bensalem across Route 1 headed toward a residential neighborhood. Several homes lost roofing material and experienced minor damage.
The tornado blew across Rockhill Road and along Richlieu Road toward the Christian Life Center where it snapped and uprooted trees. The winds blew paneling off the church steeple, but the steeple was not otherwise damaged.
The dying tornado crossed Galloway Road where it entered the Bensalem Township Community Park, near Bristol Road. It left behind minor tree damage before it vanished at 7:12 p.m.