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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Storm that produced Spokane-area tornadoes formed quickly

One of two tornadoes that hit the Spokane area on Friday  caused two trailers, including this one, to tip over Friday night in Spokane Valley.  (Courtesy of Spokane Valley Fire Department)

The Friday storm that produced two rare Spokane-area tornadoes formed so fast that the twisters were being reported on social media at about the same time weather watchers confirmed them on radar.

The storm cell approached Spokane on Friday evening from the west and was generally heading northeast.

While storm watchers issued a thunderstorm warning Friday, they didn’t have enough information to issue a tornado watch, said Rocco Pellati, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“This storm just happened so quick, I believe what grabbed people’s attention was social media,” Pellati said, referring to videos of funnel clouds published on Twitter.

The first tornado caused power line and tree damage where it touched down just after 7 p.m. near Greenwood Road and Kynan Lane, east of Northern Quest Resort and Casino.

The second tornado, from the same storm cell, then touched down in Spokane Valley about 7:20 p.m. and tipped two trailers at the Central Mobile Home Park, at 5820 E. Fourth Ave., requiring fire crews to extricate a person from each trailer.

An uprooted tree also fell on a house in the 8500 block of East Fifth Avenue and another falling tree crushed two nearby cars.

While storm watchers saw the approaching storm system, it gave few clues as to its potential, Pellati said.

He noted that the storm did not produce the conditions, 1-inch or larger hail or winds of 58 mph or higher, that would have warranted the National Weather Service to issue severe thunderstorm warning.

“Everything was moving so quick, by the time we were able to look at the scans … that looked tornadic, it had already had done its business in the first and likely the second time it touched down,” he said.

Prior to the two tornadoes on Friday, Spokane County had only 13 reported tornadoes since 1936.

Pellati pointed out that the local office of the National Weather Service, located at Spokane International Airport, didn’t have Doppler weather radar, which can confirm tornadoes, until 1996.

Prior to that time, weather watchers relied on eye witness accounts or field investigations to confirm tornadoes, he said.

“There’s a good chance that there were more tornadoes that were not observed or reported,” Pellati said, of the Spokane Region before 1996.

The storm that hit Spokane was very unlike the massive thunderstorm systems that can sometimes be as large as one or two states in the Midwest.

“With those very big systems, you can track them for hours,” he said. “And you just kind of watch them and you can predict where things are going to come out.”

The storm that hit Spokane had some elements necessary for a tornado, including wind shear, or severe wind speed and direction changes. But the storm was very compact, Pellati said.

“The earlier the cell gets your attention, the more time you have to look at it and interrogate it,” he said. “This one didn’t give us the time to do either effectively.”

The storm also occurred earlier than the normal time a tornado would strike the Spokane area, which is June.

Cold continues

More unsettled weather, albeit not the kind that blows trailers over, is forecast for Spokane and the region for the coming week.

More thunderstorms were expected Monday evening with a potential for frost Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, and snow could fall in higher elevations later in the week.

“For the next couple of days, we are kind of cool and showery and unsettled,” he said, “where there is still some potential (Monday) and (Tuesday) for thunderstorms.”

Thursday could bring the next major system that likely will bring rain in the evening and snow at elevations above 3,000 feet, Pellati said.

“There could be some snow mixed in Friday morning around the area,” he said. “But we are out of the time of year where it will accumulate.”