Tornadoes are rare and usually weak in California, but there have been some notable exceptions. In this article, we will explore the history and science of the biggest tornadoes that have ever hit the Golden State.
The Carr Fire Tornado
The most recent and perhaps the most astonishing tornado in California history was the fire tornado that formed during the Carr Fire near Redding in 2018. This was only the second true fire tornado in recorded history, and the first one witnessed in the United States.
A fire tornado, or firenado, is a rotating column of fire and smoke that forms when intense heat and strong winds create a vortex. Fire tornadoes are extremely dangerous and destructive, as they can hurl burning debris, generate lightning, and produce winds of over 100 mph.
The Carr Fire tornado was estimated to have winds of 143 mph, making it an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale. It was also about 1,000 feet wide and 18,000 feet tall, and lasted for about an hour. The fire tornado killed three people, destroyed dozens of homes, and uprooted trees and power lines.
The Los Angeles Tornado
The most destructive tornado on record in California in terms of property damage was the Los Angeles tornado of 1987. The tornado resulted from a severe thunderstorm that moved over the city on June 5, 1987. The tornado touched down near the Los Angeles International Airport and moved northeast, hitting several neighborhoods and industrial areas.
The Los Angeles tornado was rated as an F2 on the Fujita scale, with winds of up to 157 mph. It had a path length of 6.5 miles and a width of 200 yards. The tornado caused an estimated $25 million in damages, not adjusted for inflation. It damaged or destroyed hundreds of buildings, vehicles, and power lines, and injured 30 people. No fatalities were reported.
The Sequoia National Park Tornado
The highest elevation for a confirmed tornado in the United States was recorded in Sequoia National Park in 2004. A twister touched down at an altitude of around 12,156 feet on July 7, 2004, near the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous U.S.
The Sequoia National Park tornado was rated as an F1 on the Fujita scale, with winds of up to 112 mph. It had a path length of 0.3 miles and a width of 50 yards. The tornado caused minor damage to trees and rocks, and no injuries or fatalities were reported. The tornado was witnessed by several hikers and campers, who captured photos and videos of the rare event.
California is not known for its tornadoes, but as we have seen, there have been some remarkable cases of twisters in the state. From the Carr Fire tornado, the most powerful and spectacular fire tornado ever observed, to the Los Angeles tornado, the most costly and damaging tornado in the state, to the Sequoia National Park tornado, the highest elevation tornado in the country, California has experienced some of the most unique and diverse tornadoes in the world.