07.03.10

Post 100: 12 Years Ago Today…

Posted in Weather History at 6:52 pm by Rebekah

A special note: this is the 100th post on this blog!

12 years ago today, on 3 July 1998, I saw my first tornado, in Ellensburg, Washington.  Here’s a (slightly edited) selection of what I wrote about the event in my journal, about a month later.  I was 12 years old.

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“July 3rd we planned to go to Grandma Izetta’s for her birthday on the 4th, and watch the parade and fireworks. But that afternoon Caitlin [my sister] was out mowing the lawn and Dad was out in the field fixing the fence. Mom and I (inside) saw lightning and heard thunder so Mom sent me to tell Caitlin to come inside. But just then (at about 2:20 pm) Caitlin came screaming and tearing to the house.

I thought maybe there was a fire somewhere or Caitlin got hit by lightning. Finally we heard her shout: Funnel Cloud! Funnel Cloud! Mom thought she [Caitlin] saw something that looked like a funnel cloud. So we stepped out onto the porch and I gasped. A tornado that was extremely tall was heading straight for our farm. [Note: it was actually moving from the west to the east, so it tracked past our farm but did not hit us.]

When I first saw it, all gray with dust, it looked the scariest. I started shaking. I thought we didn’t have anywhere to go. Mom said if it got closer or worse we would go for the pumphouse basement. That’s right, I thought.

We found out that the tornado was very weak because in Steve’s hay field [our neighbor] it whipped some hay up and gently twirled it. I just kept thinking I wanted to run for the basement. But then I kept reminding myself God is in control. God is in control.

Finally it dissipated. We were all relieved but Mom still watched for something inside. [She sat inside by an east-facing window, watching the area  in which we had last seen the tornado.]”

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This was one of the scariest moments of my life; I was so scared at seeing a tornado, albeit a very weak one, my knees were shaking and I literally could not move.  I wanted desperately to get a photo of the tornado, but I could not run inside to get my camera, as I could not bring myself to take my eyes off of the tornado.

One of our neighbors down the road took some photos of it, but he said they were pretty low contrast and did not turn out.

I have never seen any photos of this storm, and it is probable that none exist, as it was a weak, short-lived tornado that tracked through rural farmland.  The track length was probably at least one mile, as our neighbors a mile down the road saw it move past their house as well. {Update: A year after this post I did get ahold of a photo; see Full Circle…The Lost Photo Of My First Tornado}

The tornado was never reported, so if you look up records for July 3, 1998, you’ll only find information on the heavy rain event.  We didn’t know anything about reporting tornadoes at the time.

The storm that produced this tornado was part of a thunderstorm cluster that was also responsible for bringing 3.2 inches of rain in an hour, causing landslides along the nearby Yakima River that left jetties that can still be seen today.  A weather station in an orchard in the hills between us and the river reported small hail up to 5 inches deep.

For a bit more information on this storm (minus the tornado!), see the National Weather Service Pendleton office’s Top 10 Weather Events in the History of the NWS Pendleton Forecast Office website.  I’d love to see some radar images of the storms, and to know if they were warned at all…but it’s hard to find archived weather info from before about the early 2000s.

After I saw this tornado, I was driven all the more to watch documentaries on tornadoes and hurricanes, and learn as much as I could about severe weather.  And to think that now I actually seek these storms out….!

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1 Comment

  1. Jeff said,

    July 4, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    I was just looking at an image from the Pendleton radar valid at 21:23Z on July 3, 1998, which if my conversion is right, would be 2:20 PDT. It did show a developing cell near Ellensburg at this time. With the radar site rather far away, it’s tough to say exactly what type of storm it is. There looked to be numerous thunderstorms over south central Washington, though.