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Tornado in Sussex County categorized as second ever EF-3 to hit state, first since 1961

Tornado damage from Saturday, April 1, 2023 in Sussex County.
Delaware Emergency Management Agency
Tornado damage from Saturday, April 1, 2023 in Sussex County.

Saturday night’s tornado in Sussex County is believed to be the strongest on record to hit the county.

The National Weather Service in Mount Holly, NJ confirmed the tornado that struck a 14.3-mile area between Bridgeville and Ellendale Saturday night was an EF-3.

To qualify as an EF-3, winds must reach at least 136 to 165 mph for at least three seconds

The Enhanced Fujita scale that rates tornadoes says an EF-3 has winds that reach 136 mph to 165 mph for at least three seconds, and according to the National Weather Service the maximum winds from this tornado were 140 mph.

The scale goes up to EF-5, but National Weather Service meteorologist Alex Staarmann says you don’t often see tornadoes as strong as Saturday’s.

"Most tornadoes, not just in our area, but in most of the US and in the world, most tornadoes are actually EF-0 to EF-1. That's more typically what occurs. So once you start getting EF-2, EF-3 type wind speeds that becomes a lot more rare,” said Staarmann. “Even for areas that do experience a lot of tornadoes that's uncommon."

The path width of the tornado was 700 yards or 4/10 of a mile.

Staarmann says this type of tornado is rare in Delaware.

"This is actually only the second F-3 or EF-3 tornado on record in Delaware. The previous one occurred on April 28th in 1961, and that was in New Castle. So it is certainly rare, not necessarily unprecedented because there has been an F-3 before," said Staarmann.

The tornado damaged more than 60 homes and buildings according to Sussex County Communications Director Chip Guy.

It also killed an elderly man near Greenwood. That’s the first confirmed death from a tornado in Delaware since 1983.

Joe brings over 20 years of experience in news and radio to Delaware Public Media and the All Things Considered host position. He joined DPM in November 2019 as a reporter and fill-in ATC host after six years as a reporter and anchor at commercial radio stations in New Castle and Sussex Counties.