Update: The National Weather Service has rated the tornado that hit the city of Port Orchard an EF2.
It looked more like Kansas than Washington state Tuesday afternoon, as a powerful tornado tore through Seattle’s western suburb of Port Orchard. The twister caused major damage to at least one group of homes.
According to local media, about 50 structures were damaged. The tornado also blew down many trees and caused power outages in the area. Thus far, there have been no reports of serious injuries.
The tornado struck right around 2 p.m. local time as a vigorous atmospheric disturbance from the Pacific punched ashore. It originated from large vortex near Alaska that has kicked up massive waves on the West Coast in recent days.
The National Weather Service plans to survey the storm damage Wednesday and assign the tornado an intensity rating on the 0 to 5 Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale.
The visible damage and radar evidence suggest this very well could have been a strong tornado (EF2+). If that’s the case, a meteorologist said it will be the first strong tornado confirmed in the state since 1986, when a twister struck north of Everett.
Confirmed tornadoes are generally few and relatively far between in the Pacific Northwest, although certainly not unprecedented.
“[F]ive tornadoes have touched down in King County [home to Seattle] since records have been kept,” wrote KOMO Seattle’s Scott Sistek in a timely article focusing on another tornado anniversary last week. Before Monday’s storm, the most recent tornado in the region touched down in January 2015.
Washington state averages about three tornadoes per year in recent history, although it is possible that some have gone undetected in the past. The region’s rugged terrain can make tornadoes hard to see, and smaller tornadoes, in particular, may have been hidden by clouds and rain.
Historically, most tornado activity in the state has occurred east of the Cascade mountain range in the spring.
In coastal areas in the Pacific Northwest, tornado activity has been distributed somewhat more randomly throughout the year. Twisters are often associated with onshore flow from the Pacific Ocean, which is more typical in the cooler months of the year, or the rainy season. December has featured a number of spin-ups in the past.
In fact, the strongest tornado on record in the Seattle area (and a tie for the state) occurred on Dec. 12, 1969. That tornado barreled across parts of Seattle’s southern suburbs, less than 15 miles to the east of Tuesday’s twister.