Weather Blog

Tornado Warning nearly issued Thursday -- would you have been ready?

Tornado Warning nearly issued Thursday -- would you have been ready?
Wall cloud hangs low over Lakewood, Wash. on Aug. 29, 2013. (Photo courtesy: YouNews contributor: cwtrrt)

The intense thunderstorms Thursday evening brought quite a bit of heavy rain and lightning...

And actually came somewhat close to producing a tornado!

First, as the storms passed Olympia and dropped nearly an inch of rain in 20 minutes, NOAA's Storm Prediction Center -- in charge of issuing severe weather watches -- took note of the storm, issuing a discussion indicating a "marginal tornado threat" for Western Washington.

Tornadoes aren't unheard of in Western Washington -- there have been 16 in King, Pierce and Snohomish County since the 1950s, almost all very weak, although this one that struck Kent in 1969 sure turned heads. But most of those have been isolated incidents where just enough ingredients over a local area came together. This time, the potential seemed more widespread.

The evidence wasn't enough to warrant a Tornado Watch, which as far as I know has never before been issued for the Puget Sound area, but anytime the SPC is noticing something for Western Washington, it's a pretty rare and big deal.

Then a few moments later as the storm approached Tacoma, Doppler Radar started to indicate some weak rotation in the cell. The photos above depict a wall cloud that was spotted in Lakewood, but luckily the dynamics just didn't quite come together to produce an actual tornado.

But the Seattle office of the National Weather Service says they "came real close" to issuing a Tornado Warning for the storm, which means a tornado is either spotted by people or radar indicates one has potential to form or is occurring (the radar data having been what nearly triggered the Tacoma warning.)

"The rotation with this storm was relatively weak, yet was the strongest we had seen on the radar here in quite some time and something we do not see here very often," said Ted Buehner with the National Weather Service. " We asked the question - will this produce a brief tornado?"

The alert would have gone out over the Emergency Alert System and would have automatically broken into programming on TV/radio and all your cell phones would have gone off with the blaring alarms like the Amber Alert earlier this month.

But had the warning gone out, would you have known what to do? My career has spanned nearly 20 years in Seattle and I can only remember one other tornado warning issued -- for a cell that radar indicated had weak rotation in eastern Snohomish County -- I think it was in the late 90s. I don't think that tornado was ever verified. (And I don't think we broke into programming for it.)

But I'd say if you have a few moments, just read this article on tornado safety tips. The main points are: Get inside, and get as low and toward the middle of your home/building as possible, like an inside bathroom -- certainly a room with no windows. If you have a basement, even better.

Odds are extremely low you'll ever need to use it around here, but some almost needed it Thursday. And good to have in the back of your mind should someday an actual tornado warning is issued.

P.S.: Storm over Omak was not a tornado

Those on the east side of the Cascades were dealing with their own big thunderstorms, including one cell near Omak that generated several photos of a very ominous cloud like this:


Photo: Kris McAllister McLeod

But alas, that was not a tornado. It's a shelf cloud and a big downburst of rain, and the winds generated by the outflow of the rain were pretty strong. But a National Weather Service inspection team went to the site and determined all the wind was a straight line -- as in no swirling winds from a tornado.