UPDATED with the latest: The morning after the National Weather Service issued a Tornado Warning for Northwest Los Angeles and parts of Ventura County, videos began surfacing online of a short funnel reaching down toward a swirling cloud of debris on the ground about 50 miles away. Local (and national) TV news outlets were soon all over the incident, which took place in Montebello.
The tornado — whose strength has not yet been measured — hit around 11:20 a.m. Wednesday. The storm was focused in a largely industrial district, and Montebello Fire Department officials said that city inspectors examined 17 buildings in the affected area, and 11 of them were red-tagged, or marked unsuitable for occupation. Fire authorities also said one person was injured.
Tornadoes in the Golden State are somewhat rare, and when they do occur like the small tornado Wednesday in Montebello they do not reach a higher risk category. Data indicates the first recorded tornado in the state was a F-1 tornado that touched down on May 17, 1949, 10 miles northwest of Fresno County.
The so called Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale measures the damage caused by tornadoes, in which various indicators are used to finally evaluate the category and approximate wind speed. The scale was adopted in 2007 and was a revision from the original Fujita Scale.
“We started holding the door, but we couldn’t,” said Niky Orellana, owner of Niky’s Sports Warehouse. “It blew out the door. It blew out the window.”
Cohen said the type of tornado that occurred in Montebello, like others that form in the area, form very quickly.
“Typically, with the tornadoes that affect this area, they spin up very rapidly, unfortunately sometimes too rapidly to detect or warn for. It’s a very different character for the tornadoes that are occurring over the Central and Eastern United States, where there’s a much stronger signal and a slower duration in terms of how they come about to form,” he said.
The cell that spawned the severe conditions moved to the northeast, but appeared to weaken as it swept into Covina, Glendora and other communities. The system likely produced rain and small hail as it entered the foothills and mountains.
Debris was spread over more than one city block. Inspectors checked 17 buildings in the area, and 11 of them were red-tagged as uninhabitable, according to the fire department. Several cars were also damaged.
The rare and violent weather came amid a strong late-season Pacific storm that brought damaging winds and more rain and snow to saturated California. Two people died Tuesday as the storm raked the San Francisco Bay Area with powerful gusts and downpours. An on-duty San Francisco police sergeant was hospitalized with life threatening injuries after a tree fell on him Tuesday, the department said.
The weather service also sent assessment teams to the Santa Barbara County city of Carpinteria, where it confirmed that a tornado hit a mobile home park on Tuesday, with gusts up to 75 miles (120 kilometers) per hour that damaged about 25 residences.
The last time the weather service’s Los Angeles office sent out tornado assessment teams was 2016 near Fillmore in Ventura County, where it was determined that a small twister had touched down, Schoenfeld said.
A tornado warning based on radar also was issued Tuesday night for the Point Mugu area west of Malibu. The warning was later canceled and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office tweeted there was no evidence a tornado touched down.
The storm was tapering off in California from north to south while pushing inland across the Southwest, the Four Corners region and the central and southern Rockies, the National Weather Service said. On Tuesday, some residents of north-central Arizona were told to prepare to evacuate because of rising water levels in rivers and basins.
They are commonly referred to as landspouts (similar to a waterspout, but over land). These differ from more traditional tornadoes that form from rotating thunderstorms, like those common in the Central Plains and the Southeast. While landspouts can cause damage, it is generally not extensive or severe.
On Tuesday evening, a weak tornado hit a mobile home park in Carpinteria – a seaside city northwest of Los Angeles, the weather service confirmed Wednesday. The service rated it as an EF-0, with winds of 75 mph.
The tornado damaged 25 mobile home units in the Sandpiper Village mobile home park and caused minor tree damage to an adjacent cemetery.
Additional video of the Montebello storm shows a swirling cloud of black debris as the roof of a nearby building gets blown off. Vehicles can be seen with damage and shattered windows.
Wednesday’s intense weather comes as California has been plagued in recent months by at least 12 atmospheric rivers that have brought devastating flooding and hurricane-force winds. An atmospheric river is like a fire hose that carries saturated air from the tropics to higher latitudes, dumping relentless rain or snow.
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