Residents had advance notice. The National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for Queens and Brooklyn at around 10:40 a.m. The storm took people by surprise anyway when it struck about 30 minutes later.
"I was showing videos of tornadoes to my 4-year-old on my phone, and two minutes later, it hit," said neighborhood resident Peter Maloney. "Just like they always say, it sounded like a train."
In the storm's wake, the community of seaside bungalows was littered with broken flower pots, knocked-down fences and smashed windows.
At the Breezy Point Surf Club, the tornado ripped the roofs off rows of cabanas, scattered deck chairs and left a heavy metal barbecue and propane tank sitting in the middle of a softball field, at least 100 yards from any nearby home.
"It picked up picnic benches. It picked up Dumpsters," said the club's general manager, Thomas Sullivan.
Half an hour later the weather was beautiful, but he had to close the club to clean up the damage.
The roof of Bob O'Hara's cabana was torn off, leaving tubes of sunscreen, broken beer bottles and an old TV set exposed to the elements.
"We got a new sunroof," said O'Hara, who has spent summer weekends at the Breezy Point club for his entire 52 years. "The TV was getting thrown out anyway," he added.
The National Weather Service confirmed Saturday evening that a second tornado hit the Canarsie neighborhood in Brooklyn around 11:30 a.m., but traveled only half a mile and caused no injuries.
The tornadoes struck as part of a line of storms that were expected to bring damaging winds, hail, heavy rain and possibly more tornadoes throughout the mid-Atlantic and Northeast on Saturday. Across New York state, in Buffalo, strong winds from a broad front of thunderstorms blew roofing off of some buildings and sent bricks falling into the street.
The city of Albany canceled the evening portion of an outdoor jazz festival because of the threat of storms, and hundreds of upstate New York homes lost power as the weather system moved through.
The storm system killed four people, including a child, in Oklahoma on Friday.
Radar data, video and witness reports confirmed that the cyclone that hit New York City was a tornado, National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Hofmann said. He said an inspection team would assess the damage and before estimating the strength of the storm. Hofmann said some witnesses were reporting that the wind had been strong enough to lift cars off the pavement.
Lizann Maher, a worker at Kennedy's Restaurant at the edge of Jamaica Bay, said she saw a "swirling cone kind of thing with something flying in it" come down and then head back out into the water toward Brooklyn.