SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – A rare tornado touched down in a Los Angeles suburb, ripping roofs off a line of commercial buildings and sending the debris twisting into the sky and across a city block, injuring one person.
The National Weather Service sent teams to assess damage in Montebello and later confirmed that a tornado had touched down around 11:20 a.m. Wednesday.
The weather service said that the tornado was an EF1, a measurement on the Enhanced Fujita Scale that indicates it had winds of 86 mph to 110 mph (138 kph to 177 kph). That made it the strongest tornado to hit the Los Angeles metropolitan area since March 1983, the weather service said.
“It's definitely not something that's common for the region,” said meteorologist Rose Schoenfeld with the weather service.
One person was injured and was taken to a hospital in Montebello, said Alex Gillman, a city spokesman. He didn't know the severity of the injury.
Michael Turner could hear the winds get stronger from inside his office at the 33,000-square-foot (3,065-square-meter) warehouse he owns just south of downtown Montebello. When the lights started flickering, he went outside to find his employees gazing up at the ominous sky. He brought everyone inside.
“It got very loud. Things were flying all over the place,” Turner said. “The whole factory became a big dustbowl for a minute. Then when the dust settled, the place was just a mess.”
Nobody was hurt, but the gas line was severed, fire sprinklers broke, all the skylights shattered and a 5,000-square-foot (465-square-meter) section of roof was “just gone,” Turner said. He said his polyester fiber business, Turner Fiberfill, could be closed for months.
“I've been in California since 1965. Never seen anything like this,” Turner said. “Earthquakes — we're used to that.”
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 mph (120 kph) that damaged about 25 residences.
That tornado was measured at a relatively weak EF0, with winds of 65 mph to 80 mph (105 kph to 129 kph).
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.
The wind and rain mayhem from San Francisco Bay south to Monterey Bay on Tuesday was caused by an extraordinary drop in barometric pressure over the eastern Pacific that meteorologists described as “explosive cyclogenesis.”
“Wow. Even by the standards of what has turned out to be one of our most extraordinary winter seasons in a very long time, yesterday ... stands out,” the Bay Area weather office wrote.
Trees and power lines were blown down. Windows were blown out from two San Francisco high-rises, NBC Bay Area reported. Ferry service was disrupted because conditions were too rough. Three barges got loose and damaged a bridge.
An Amtrak commuter train carrying 55 passengers struck a downed tree and derailed near the East Bay village of Porta Costa. The train remained upright and nobody was injured, Amtrak and fire officials said.
Five deaths were attributed to the storm. In the Bay Area community of Portola Valley, a man driving a sewer truck was killed when a tree fell onto the vehicle, the California Highway Patrol said. And in the community of Rossmoor, a driver was injured and a passenger died after a large tree fell onto a car, the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District said.
In Oakland, a man inside a tent died Tuesday night after a tree fell on it near Lake Merritt.
Two people also died at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital on Tuesday while receiving treatment for injuries suffered in separate storm-related incidents, according to city officials.
In the Monterey Bay region, Santa Cruz County was blasted with gusts up to 80 mph (129 kph). Along the coastline of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, ocean foam blew across the roadways like large snowflakes.
Some 45,000 customers were without electricity early Thursday throughout the state, according to PowerOutage.us.
The National Weather Service said Tuesday's storm, which came on the first full day of spring following the state’s extraordinary winter, was a Pacific low pressure system interacting with California's 12th atmospheric river since late December.
California's unexpected siege of wet weather after years of drought also included February blizzards powered by arctic air.
The storms have unleashed flooding and loaded mountains with so much snow that roofs have been crushed and crews have struggled to keep highways clear of avalanches.