Rare tornado touches down in Fresno County amid winter storm

Experts are surveying the damage of a rare tornado that touched down outside Clovis in Central California on Thursday afternoon.

The tornado hit near Herndon and Academy avenues about 3:20 p.m., said Jim Dudley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

After reviewing video footage of the funnel cloud, meteorologists initially estimated that it reached wind speeds of 65 to 85 mph and said it was likely a category EF-0 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, the weakest tornado in the six-point scale.

On Friday morning, after surveying the scene where the tornado struck, weather specialists upgraded the twister to an EF-1 and said it reached wind speeds of 85 mph. No one was injured, although it damaged a few structures and uprooted trees in the open field.

”There was some fairly decent damage,” said Jerald Meadows, a warning coordination meteorologist for the NWS. “There was an old barn that completely lost its roof. Half the roof of an outbuilding got peeled off.” The tin roof and plywood decking of a second outbuilding was also peeled off, he said.


“You look at the type of damage that occurred: What kind of building was it? Was it metal? Was it wood? Was it strong or dilapidated?” Dudley said. “They put all this together and make an estimation of the wind speed required.”

Central California sees weak tornadoes once every few years, he said. No one in the area has ever been killed or injured by a tornado. Though still rare, they’re more common in the Sacramento area, Dudley said.

“They are rare for sure, but not unheard of.”

Unlike other parts of the country that experience destructive tornadoes as a result of strong storms, California’s tornadoes are triggered by weaker weather and sometimes even heavy rain in the right conditions, Dudley said. Wind blowing from different directions creates the tornado’s spin.

The twisters are often so weak in the state that they’re not picked up by weather service radar, making them difficult to track and issue warnings for, Dudley said.

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