Carson City tornado: Nevada weather can be twisted but tornadoes are rare
September 14, 2017
We're not in Nevada anymore — at least that's what it felt like when the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning Wednesday afternoon, when a funnel cloud was spotted over Lake Tahoe.
Even though Carson City is about 20 miles down the hill from where it happened, it could've been possible for the funnel cloud to form over the capital; the last tornado recorded in Carson City was 12 years ago.
In a report gathered by Tornadoproject.com, Carson City's first tornado struck at 7:30 p.m. April 27, 2005, for a short duration. No damages or injuries were reported.
But is it possible to have another tornado touch down in the area? Although there's history of tornados touching ground in our mountainous area, they don't survive long.
NWS meteorologist Tony Fuentes said the lake experienced a similar storm about two years ago with funnel cloud formation.
Normally, a tornado warning is triggered when a funnel cloud is spotted over land. But since Wednesday's cloud was located in between the shore and the lake, it's better to be safe than sorry, Fuentes said.
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"Tornados in the area are fairly uncommon but not unheard of," Fuentes said. "The main thing we're lacking compared to the plains is we need a lot of wind shear with speed, and a direction to go to."
Wednesday's warning was the first since July 21, 2014, when a funnel cloud was spotted east of Sparks and Spanish Springs.
Over the last 17 years, the NWS has issued 11 tornado warnings, including the most recent.
Because of Nevada's landscape, it's difficult to spot a funnel cloud through the NWS radar, Fuentes said, as it detects rotation within a thunderstorm. The NWS gathers its reports from reliable sources to confirm funnel cloud sightings; Fuentes said an off-duty staff member of NWS reported the tornado making its way to touch the lake's surface.
They described it as "it popped out of nowhere."
"Although the area intersects counties, the warning was mostly issued for the suburbs in Lake Tahoe," he said. "The funnel cloud did make contact with the water surface. We had cell storm collisions that put enough spin to it and turned it into a water spout."
In its nationwide database, Tornadoproject.com reports 79 tornado sightings in Nevada since 1962.
But the last time a tornado touch down in Northern Nevada with impact was May 26, 1964, according to the report. One person was injured from flying debris as a small tornado damaged a ranch near Yerington.
Nine years later, another small tornado made contact with land six miles north of Reno, also causing an injury. Both tornados occurred in the afternoon.
Although this kind of weather is unusual for the region, we can expect it to see it sometime again within a period of time.
But as for the rest of the season, we have nothing to worry about when it comes to funnel clouds, Fuentes said.
"We're shifting away from the thunderstorm season that forms funnel clouds," he said. "We're going shift into a fall-like pattern. This kind of weather is normal in the fall, even in late season. That's because the lake is warm and the colder air masses destabilizes weather events. But it's not likely, since it's a rare occurrence."