A tornado touched down in the Pierce County town of Frederickson early Monday, knocking over rail cars, uprooting dozens of trees, and taking several cars for a spin.
Ted Buehner, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle, said the Level EF-1 tornado appears to have touched down at 7:20 a.m. The twister, whose winds reached 110 mph, was 75 yards wide and left behind damage estimated at $25,000. Tornados are divided into six categories of intensity, with EF-0 being the weakest and EF-5 the strongest with winds topping 200 mph.
The tornado moved through the Boeing Co.’s Fredrickson site where one building sustained minor damages. The tornado also turned over empty rail cars near the Boeing facility and blew in a large metal door at EnCon Washington in Puyallup.
"We had some roofs torn off in a couple of places," Buehner said. "Some vehicles and some relatively lightweight structures were lifted up in the air and then dropped back down, but nobody got hurt."
“For the probably several hundred people that were working anywhere from Northwest Door through EnCon and the Boeing plant, it was a good wakeup call for them this morning. They’ve got some great stories to tell over the Thanksgiving table,” Buehner added.
Tornados are a rare occurrence in western Washington, but not unheard of.
“We’re certainly not tornado alley here in Washington,” said Kirby Cook, science and operations officer with the National Weather Service. Cook said tornadoes tend to occur at least once a year, most often in spring and fall, and are generally much weaker than the kind you find in places where they’re more common.
In May 2011, a Level EF-0 tornado with winds clocking 65 to 85 mph hit Napavine. Another EF-0 tornado hit Toledo in October 2010. An EF-1 tornado with winds between 90 to 110 mph hit Vancouver, Washington in 2008.
Tornadoes are associated with the dynamics of unstable air that produces thunderstorms. Therefore, places with the kind of warm, hot, humid weather that generates intense thunder and lightning are the places where storybook twisters frequently wreak havoc.
Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, says though the damage that hit Fredrickson is not unheard of and not really unusual for Washington, the timing of Monday’s tornado is auspicious as it capped what has been a September for the record books.
“We’ve had a lot of funny things happening,” Mass said. “This September has really been quite unusual.”
It started with unusually high low evening temps—what Mass calls “a low temperature heat wave”—in Washington. Then the weekend brought record-breaking rainfall followed by an extraordinarily intense low that crossed Vancouver Island
“We normally don’t see that till late October or November,” Mass said.
The conditions produced winds that were getting to hurricane strength gusts along the Vancouver Island coast. Monday’s tornado in Frederickson was the final flourish.
But Mass says people shouldn’t read too much into it.
“I don’t think there’s any big message here. I don’t think this is climate change or anything else,” he said. “But you do have years where you have some unusual things happening, maybe earlier than normal, and I think that’s what we’re seeing today.”