Stunned residents of Cowlitz County watched yesterday afternoon as a rare tornado raced through the Washington city of Longview, leaving a trail of damage that included torn off roofs, uprooted trees and snapped power poles. Witnesses reported seeing a funnel cloud touch down and lift up again multiple times. The blast covered 1.3 miles and had winds as high as 110 mph. The damage swatch was 200 feet wide. No injuries have been reported.
The tornado has been confirmed by the National Weather Service as an EF1 event as rated on the tornado scale, defined as 3-second gusts between 86 and 110 mph. The storms are rare in Washington and the Pacific Northwest due to the stabilizing effect on temperatures caused by the Pacific Ocean. It started at about 1:00 p.m. and broke up about 1:30, according to authorities.
Roofs were blown off an assisted living facility, an appliance store and the Kessler Elementary School gym, among others. When the roof blew off the gym the children were playing outside in the rain and did not even notice anything had happened, according to school officials. Plenty of other residents noticed. One woman got herself and her granddaughter out of the car and into the house as she saw the twister touching ground and lifting up again, snapping power poles and uprooting trees.
Andy Bernard stopped carving pumpkins to go outside and see what was making so much noise. He just missed being hit by his outdoor trampoline, which flew right at him and through a window of the house. He said the wind sucked it right back out again and up over the garage, taking it three-quarters of the way down the block.
Chris Cook was in the nearby city of Kelso and reported “massive, massive rumbling,” strong winds, and debris spinning around. Officials with the Department of Emergency Management were alerting people to stay off phones and away from windows, and also to watch out for downed power lines.
Appliance salesman Ian McNew was working at Manchester Brothers when the storm hit. He and his coworkers first noticed cars driving very fast passed the store, which they thought was odd. Then they saw leaves blowing and heard a howl that grew into a loud road, after which the roof of another building came through their front window. They took cover in a back office until the incident was over, which McNew estimates only took 20 to 30 seconds. McNew said when they went outside after the tornado went through they could still see it down the street, filled with swirling debris.
Another tornado struck southwest Washington in 1972, causing damage in Vancouver, Washington, located just across the Columbia River from Portland. That storm killed six people and injured about 300, including 70 school children whose elementary school was demolished. Damage was estimated to be over $3 million.
Dr. Greg Forbes, The Weather Channel’s severe weather expert, said that three weak tornadoes have been reported in Cowlitz County since 1950, with the most recent in 2004. The last time the National Weather Service in Portland issued a tornado warning was in 2010. The Seattle, Washington, office issued its first tornado warning since 1997 two weeks ago.
By Beth A. Balen