Saturday, March 05, 2005

Wild Weather Continues - Tornado Touches Down in Fontana

What a year this has been for weather. It's rained for about the last three weeks and yesterday a tornado damaged homes in Fontana! That's right - a tornado. Here follows a round-up of press coverage. There's also a brief description of what to do if you're a Californian and find yourself in a tornado:

From the Los Angeles Times:

Twister Damages 4 Homes in Fontana
  • The relatively small tornado touches down about noon, causing damage but no injuries. Forecasters see a slight chance for more today.

  • By Susannah Rosenblatt and Erica Williams, Times Staff Writers

    Cloudbursts raked Southern California on Friday, spawning a small tornado that touched down in Fontana around noon, downing power lines, uprooting trees and damaging four houses and a pump house in a residential subdivision.

    The tornado touched down on Elm north of Merrill

    The twister, which witnesses said took about five minutes to dissipate, caused about $20,000 worth of damage, but there were no reports of injuries, said San Bernardino County Fire Dept. Battalion Chief David Nuñez.

    "It was like a movie," said resident Jose Farias, 20. Farias' back fence was blown over, but his dog and roosters were unhurt.

    "I've never seen the wind blow so hard," said Farias, describing how the twister nearly tugged his neighbor's roof off. "I was like, 'Is this the end of the world?' It was crazy. Everything was vibrating."

    There were eight reports of tornadoes in Southern California between Jan. 10 and Feb. 26, said Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service. California typically has about a dozen tornadoes — far weaker and briefer than those in the Midwest — in an entire year.

    Brief but heavy showers swept rapidly across the Los Angeles Basin on Friday, interspersed with equally brief moments of sunshine.

    The weather service said 0.6 of an inch of rain had fallen on downtown Los Angeles by 5:30 p.m., raising the total for the season, which runs from July 1 to June 30, to 34.51 inches. That is three times the normal total for the date and well on a pace to break the all-time season record of 38.18 inches, set in 1883-84.

    Forecasts call for a 50% chance of showers in Los Angeles County this morning, with partly cloudy skies later today and Sunday and slightly warmer temperatures.

    A high surf advisory is in effect until 10 a.m. Sunday along Orange County's coast, and forecasters said there is a slight chance of more brief tornadoes and some funnel clouds, especially near San Diego, through tonight.

    In Fontana on Friday, tree branches, wood fragments, plastic bags and shingles littered the sidewalks hours after the twister churned through the neighborhood of modest single-story stucco houses.

    "It started with the wind," said Linda Molina, 42, who was watching television when she heard two thunderclaps and the clatter of hail on the roof. She said she looked out a kitchen window and saw trash, branches and wood scraps swirling through the dark sky.

    "It was like a windmill," she said. Her roof was damaged, an electrical cable snapped, a backyard fence collapsed and a patio walkway was littered with overturned trash barrels, soda cans and glass fragments.

    Across Elm Street, Ramon Soliz, 60, said he had been edging the grass along a walkway when a drizzle became a downpour.

    "The wind started gathering up," he said. "Half my neighbor's patio disappeared."

    A shade tree in Soliz's frontyard crashed through his chain-link fence, his chimney cover was knocked askew and a wooden gate from the backyard was flung into the middle of the street.

    "Thank goodness everything's back to normal," Soliz said later as a patch of blue sky and sun peeked through leaden clouds. "Thank goodness for the sunshine."

    From the Press Enterprise:

    Tornado touches down in Fontana neighborhood

    DAMAGE: A roof is blown off and debris is kicked up but no injuries are reported.

    12:59 AM PST on Saturday, March 5, 2005

    By Elena Arnold / The Press Enterprise

    A tornado ripped through a Fontana neighborhood Friday, taking a roof off a water company well building, tearing limbs from trees and sending garbage cans and lawn chairs swirling through the air.

    No one was hurt as the debris-filled funnel cloud spun along Elm Avenue north of Merrill Avenue shortly after noon. But many people were surprised.

    "Who would have thought you'd have a tornado in California," said Sharon Wagnon, who rode out the storm with her cream-colored Chihuahua, Bambi.

    Wagnon was sitting in her home at the corner of Merrill and Elm avenues when she heard a "zinging" sound in the air.

    "It was just like electricity running through power lines," she explained. "I heard a big old blast and then the wind came up. It jolted the house. It just shook this whole place."

    Next door, Steve Hagaman was watching the news when the weather satellite focused on a storm cell over California Speedway, just blocks away.

    "I opened the back door and I heard this sucking sound. The first thing I saw was that thing flipping into the air," he said, pointing to a canvas patio cover on the side of his house.

    Hagaman said he struggled to close the door as the house started to shake.

    "I saw the ceiling moving up and down. I heard a kaboom and a crash. I knew it was a tornado," he said.

    The National Weather Service confirmed that a weak tornado touched down in the area around 12:20 p.m., said forecaster Philip Gonsalves.

    Gonsalves said tornadoes are not uncommon in the Inland Empire.

    "How they develop is slightly different from the ones in the Midwest," he explained. "The ones out here tend to be weaker."

    Firefighters went door to door in the area affected by Friday's tornado -- about two square blocks -- to make sure there were no injuries or significant structural damage to residences, said David Nunez, battalion chief with the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

    "There were a lot of eucalyptus trees down. Some of the houses had trees uprooted," he said.

    Heavy winds and flying debris also damaged cable, telephone and power lines in the area and damaged a transformer.

    Southern California Edison spokesman Gil Alexander said no customers were affected.

    Mick Miner, production supervisor with the Fontana Water Co., said the tornado ripped off the roof of a small building that houses a well and damaged some minor electrical components inside.

    Jim Bryson, of the Fontana Water Company, surveys the damage a weak tornado in Fontana caused to a well. The well is shut down for repairs, so water service will not be affected.

    The well is shut down for repairs and water service to customers will not be affected, Miner said.

    Metrolink tracks just north of the well building were not damaged, Nunez said.

    About an hour after the storm, which included heavy rain and hail, the clouds parted to reveal an azure sky.

    Neighbors gathered to survey the damage and to retrieve their lawn ornaments, chairs and garbage cans from each other's yards.

    Hagaman was looking for an easy-up shelter he had erected in his back yard.

    "There are a few pieces of it over there," he said, gesturing to some white poles in a yard across the street. "I've walked through the neighborhood and I can't find the rest of it, though."

    Finally, from the San Bernardino County Sun:

    Tornado rips off roof in Fontana

    By Sara A. Carter, Staff Writer

    FONTANA - In a twist on the usual weather, a tornado hit the city Friday afternoon, pulling shingles off three homes, frightening residents and ripping the roof off a water well building.

    The sky turned black as marble-sized hail began to pelt the soggy ground just before the tornado hit at 12:25 p.m., said Sharon Wagnon, a resident of Elm Avenue.

    "I didn't even move out of my chair I was so scared,' said Wagnon as she clutched her small Chihuahua, Bambi. "I always have the door open, but I couldn't pull it closed.'

    No injuries or deaths were reported in the tornado's half-mile path, which exposed residents to flying debris and strong winds, San Bernardino County fire Battalion Chief David Nunez said.

    A tornado warning also went into effect late Friday afternoon in the Apple Valley area.

    The tornado in Fontana was an unusual byproduct of the strong storms that roared into San Bernardino and Riverside counties on Friday, dropping about half an inch on an already record-setting year of rainfall, said Brad Doyle, a forecaster for the National Weather Service.

    There's a 50 percent chance of rain today, though it's expected to abate by Sunday.

    "Tornadoes are much more common in the Midwest and Great Plains,' Doyle said. "We don't get nearly as many here. However, it's not that uncommon.'

    Last month, two tornadoes were spotted in Southern California one in Fallbrook, a city in northern San Diego County, and another in neighboring Temecula though no damage was reported, he added.

    Friday's twister caused minimal damage to the three homes on Elm Avenue but left trees uprooted and mangled. A damage estimate was not immediately available, Nunez said.

    "I didn't believe it when we first got the call,' Nunez said as he surveyed the damage to the well building. "This is my first tornado in my 32 years on the job out here. Thank God nobody was injured because the winds were so strong people couldn't even shut the doors to their homes when it came through.'

    Shaken residents picked up pieces of broken glass and debris as the late afternoon sky turned blue. They swapped stories on what they had witnessed and toured the battered neighborhood.

    "We saw trash cans being lifted up into the air and sucked into the spinning wind,' said Paul Barron, 20, from his home at Citron and Elm avenues.

    Barron, who was sitting in the front yard with friend Bryan Esquival, 18, and brother Brian Barron, 24, said they stared at the twister barreling down the street.

    "We were in shock,' Esquival said. "We watched it the wind flipped and flopped, picking up everything. We saw a dog get hit in the (backside) with stuff that was flying out of the tornado.'

    The houses shook for what seemed like nearly five minutes, said Linda Molina, a resident of Elm whose roof peeled up on one corner. Her wooden backyard fence, meanwhile, sat scattered across two blocks.

    "It sounded like a train, and I couldn't see anything,' Molina said. 'It shook the house and pulled the stove's ventilation system out from the roof.'

    Jim Wonser, a production foreman with Fontana Water Co., believed it was a joke when fire officials called to say a tornado had ripped the roof off one of his company's buildings.

    "Well, we just didn't believe it,' Wonser said. "But here it is a tornado in Fontana. I'm just grateful nobody was working in the well area when it happened.'

    Wonser estimates damage to the well's roof and electrical circuits could be close to $5,000. There was no damage to the well itself, he said.

    For Sharon Wagnon, the tornado hit a little too close for comfort.

    "I lived in Ohio for years and never saw a tornado,' she said, laughing.

    "Maybe I should move back.'

    What to do in a tornado
    • If the building has a basement, go there until the storm passes.
    • If there is no basement, go into the center-most part of the building at the lowest part of the structure.
    • Bring a flashlight because power might go out.
    • If you're in a vehicle, don't try to outrun the tornado. Get out and find a ditch to lay in or search for the lowest point in the area. Taking shelter under a freeway overpass is a sound last-minute alternative.
    • Open a window to relieve internal pressure caused by the tornado.

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