Two rare tornadoes briefly touched down Wednesday in Southern California, injuring two people, hurtling debris and damaging several buildings, according to the National Weather Service.
An EF1 tornado with estimated peak winds of 110 mph touched down around 11:14 a.m. Wednesday in an industrial part of Montebello, a city about 8 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. According to the NWS, the tornado was the strongest to hit the Los Angeles metro area since 1983.
Rudy Garcia told KTLA that he was working at a gas station in Montebello when he turned around to see “just debris, pretty much as high as a helicopter would be, super, super high.” He said the tornado blew out the gas station’s windows and damaged a sign.
The storm ripped roofs off buildings, broke skylights and destroyed windows, leaving 17 structures damaged — including 11 that had to be red-tagged for significant damage, officials said. A tree was uprooted and a power pole snapped. One person was injured.
Michael Turner told The Associated Press that he could hear the winds strengthening while he was inside his office at a warehouse he owns just south of downtown Montebello.
“It got very loud. Things were flying all over the place,” he said. “The whole factory became a big dustbowl for a minute. Then when the dust settled, the place was just a mess.”
The storm pulled off a 5,000-square-foot portion of the roof, shattered the building’s skylights, broke a gas line and damaged fire sprinklers, according to the AP. Turner said the damage could close his polyester fiber business, Turner Fiberfill, for months, the AP reported.
“I’ve been in California since 1965. Never seen anything like this,” he said. “Earthquakes — we’re used to that.”
Around 5:45 p.m., another tornado touched down in the Sandpiper Village mobile home park in Carpinteria, about 95 miles northwest of Montebello in Santa Barbara County, according to the NWS. The EF0 tornado, which had estimated peak winds of 75 mph, damaged trees and about two dozen mobile homes, leaving one person injured, officials said.
One or two tornadoes are seen each year in an area spanning Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Louis Obispo counties, The Los Angeles Times reported.
“It’s not like the Midwest; they are very weak, but they are tornadoes,” NWS meteorologist Carol Smith told the newspaper. “They do have rotation. … (But) they tend to be short-lived. They speed up, and then they die down.”
The state sees about 11 tornadoes each year, usually in the spring and fall, according to the NWS. The tornadoes, which have been as strong as an EF3, can happen in any part of California, though they are most often seen in the northern half of the Central Valley.