“There was a what?”

“A tornado.”

“What? Where?”

“Here, in Goleta.”

“A tornado in Goleta? Yeah, right.”

“Yes, there was a tornado right by your house,” my daughter explained to her best friend Greg, a student at UC Berkeley, as they were chatting on Facebook. “It was a very small one, and it only took a tree up from its roots, damaged a flag pole, and it peeled off a rooftop, nothing else. Call your parents, maybe they felt something too.”

“Are you serious?”

“I promise.”

“Ok, I’ll call them, but I think you’re making this up, and if you are, you’ll hear back from me.”

Courtesy Photo

She didn’t.

He was not the only one reacting like that. “Tornados only happen in the Midwest, not in our backyard,” asserted Betty, an elderly friend of mine. “That’s why I live here. I’ve been living in the area for almost 20 years, and never heard of one before.”

Whether Greg or Betty believed it or not, the fact is that we had a small tornado touch down in Goleta a few days ago, and another one in Santa Barbara. See video of the latter’s aftermath here.

We also had a couple of thunderstorms, you may have noticed; the possibility of a tornado increases when there are thunderstorms warming the air up with their lightning and all.

The first time I ever heard the words tornado and Goleta together was on January 24, 2008, when a tornado warning was issued for our city. Those 2008 warnings were issued for exactly the same week of the year that the little tornados happened in 2010.

According to the Fujita Scale for tornados in relation to the speed of winds and the damages they cause, our unexpected tornado was an F0. Introduced in 1971, the Fujita Scale is now the official classification system for tornado damage. It is also a simple enough method to use in daily practice without involving much additional expenditure of time or money. The Fujita scale goes as follows:

F0 – Gale tornado, 40-72 mph: Some damages to chimneys, breaks branches off trees, pushes over shallow-rooted trees, damages sign boards.

F1 – Moderate tornado, 73-112 mph: Peels surface off roofs, mobile homes pushed off foundations, moving autos off the roads

F2 – Significant tornado, 113-157 mph: Considerable damage. Roofs torn off houses, mobile homes demolished, large trees snapped or uprooted, light object missiles generated.

F3 – Severe tornado, 158-206 mph: Roof and walls torn off well-constructed houses, trains overturned, most trees uprooted.

F4 – Devastating tornado, 207-260: Well-constructed houses leveled, structures with weak foundations blown off, cars thrown and large missiles generated.

F5 – Incredible tornado, 261-318 mph: Strong frame houses lifted off foundations and carried considerable distances to disintegrate, trees debarked, steel reinforced constructions badly damaged, automobile sized missiles generated

One very important thing to remember is that the size of a tornado is not necessarily an indication of its intensity. Large tornados can be weak, and small tornados can be violent.

While doing my research I learned that according to California Tornado Statistics, our state has had some 303 tornados from 1950 through 2004.

These are the counties with the highest number of tornados during this 56 year period:

Los Angeles County, 41 tornados; Orange County, 28 tornados; San Bernardino, 27 tornados; Fresno County, 23 tornados; San Diego County, 20 tornados.

Who knew! California’s had its share of tornados at a rate of five per year, give or take, and Santa Barbara County appears on the list with three tornados during that period, plus two more this year, so far, for a total of 5.

Hmmm. I’d say we don’t need any more. We have enough to be concerned about what with earthquakes, fires, and landslides, don’t you think?


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