After assessing the damage in Mason County, the National Weather Service confirms a small tornado touched down Wednesday night. They're calling it a landspout -- equivalent to a waterspout that's on land, but it's in the tornado family.
The NWS service says the tornado packed winds of 90 to 100 mph -- and spanned a one mile area about 50 yards wide in Mason County into Jackson County.
The Tornado's Path (from the NWS):
Click to Enlarge
The tornado was rated an EF1 on the enhanced Fujita scale. Here's a how the scale is broken down:
EF0...WIND SPEEDS 65 TO 85 MPH.
EF1...WIND SPEEDS 86 TO 110 MPH.
EF2...WIND SPEEDS 111 TO 135 MPH.
EF3...WIND SPEEDS 136 TO 165 MPH.
EF4...WIND SPEEDS 166 TO 200 MPH.
EF5...WIND SPEEDS GREATER THAN 200 MPH.
The strongest tornado to be recorded in West Virginia was in Shinnston in 1944.
WSAZ has received numerous reports of a possible tornado touchdown near Letart, WV, in Mason County. These reports have not been confirmed by the National Weather Service, but the agency is investigating.
WSAZ spoke wiith a witness: Corporal C.K. Zerkle with the West Virginia State Police. He said he was driving on Route 62 when he saw the funnel cloud hit the ground. He said it was on the ground for 3 or 4 minutes, but was certain it was a tornado.
Click on the video player below to watch an unedited interview with Corporal Zerkle.
Damage from the storm included downed power lines, trees blown over, and a garage that was lifted off its foundation.
Meteorologist Tony Cavalier speculates it may have been a "gustnado." That's a tornado-like cloud formation that does not usually extend all of the way to base of the thundercloud, but it can pack winds equivalent to a F0 or F1 tornado.
Here's the official definition of a gustnado from the National Weather Service:
A slang term for a short-lived, ground-based, shallow, vortex that develops on a gust front associated with either thunderstorms or showers. They may only extend to 30 to 300 feet above the ground with no apparent connection to the convective cloud above. They may be accompanied by rain, but usually are 'wispy', or only visible as a debris cloud or dust whirl at or near the ground. Wind speeds can reach 60 to 80 mph, resulting in significant damage, similar to that of a F0 or F1 tornado. However, gustnadoes are not considered to be a tornado, and some cases, it may be difficult to distinguish a gustnado from a tornado. Gustnadoes are not associated with storm-scale rotation (i.e. mesocyclones) that is involved with true tornadoes; they are more likely to be associated visually with a shelf cloud that is found on the forward side of a thunderstorm.