BATTLE GROUND — A tornado with winds in excess of 100 mph tore through Battle Ground late Thursday morning, sending emergency personnel to downed power lines and damaged houses, vehicles and other property. No injuries were reported.
The National Weather Service said the EF1-rated twister reached speeds of up to 104 mph and touched down around 11:15 a.m. in at least two spots along a 2-mile path in the southeast quadrant of the city.
As it headed northeast, the tornado downed dozens of trees 1- to 3-feet wide, and snapped a handful of others, weather service surveyors said. Trees fell onto cars, houses and into roadways, and closed multiple streets throughout the day. The storm also cut power to parts of the city for hours.
Residents captured footage of funnel clouds and debris flying in the air on their cellphones.
The tornado damaged two commercial businesses, Real Deals on Home Decor and IQ Food Market, which share a building on South Parkway Avenue. Officials deemed the building unsafe and it was evacuated, according to the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency.
Tornadoes rare in county, but not unheard of
Thursday’s tornado in Battle Ground joins a lengthening list of weather events that seem like they belong in Kansas, not the Pacific Northwest. But tornadoes in Clark County, while usually lacking the wallop of Midwest storms, are not unheard of here.
• On Oct. 23, 2014, a tornado sliced through Longview and Kelso and left a 6-mile trail of downed trees, shattered windows and missing roofs. No injuries were reported.
• In March 2013, a small tornado selectively tore through one Hockinson barn but left no other damage.
• The strong and long-lived tornado of January 2008 was different. It formed near Vancouver Lake and began its journey by destroying a crew boathouse and two trailers and strewing 50 boats across an 8-acre area there. Then the twister climbed up into Hazel Dell, where it downed trees and utility poles and caused major damage to several homes and businesses. The wind speed of that storm was clocked at 90 to 110 mph. Amazingly, no one was injured.
• But the most destructive tornado ever recorded in Washington or Oregon struck Vancouver in April 1972. That storm killed six people near Fourth Plain Boulevard and Andresen Road and caused millions of dollars in damage, including destroying Ogden Elementary School. It carved an 8-mile path of destruction with wind speeds as high as 200 mph.
— Scott Hewitt
Jenny Bauer, an employee at Real Deals, said she had just about stopped shaking by Thursday evening.
There were four workers and a handful of customers in the store when the tornado hit, she said.
“I was amazed at how quickly it hit, without warning,” she said.
The wind and hail picked up, then there was a sudden, loud crash that sounded like a tree hitting the building, she said.
The front door then blew open, and a tree limb flew through a window. Rain started pouring through the ceiling.
“We tried to take cover under the cash register desk,” she said, but there wasn’t enough room, and others hid in the back of the building.
After a few moments, they decided to bolt out through the store’s front door and into their cars, she said.
“Everybody grabbed their purses and we all ran out into the parking lot,” said Kathy Corcoran, the store’s owner.
Corcoran said she’s been working with her insurance company, but a claims adjuster can’t get inside and assess the damage until the building is made safe to re-enter. She said she was happy enough that no one was hurt.
“That’s the most important thing, the rest of it is just stuff,” she said. “We’ll figure it out.”
Multiple law enforcement officers, firefighters and other emergency personnel quickly converged on Battle Ground Thursday morning.
“Nobody actually told us it was a tornado right off the bat, until we started getting multiple calls,” said Clark County Fire & Rescue Acting Battalion Chief Eamonn Ryan.
The volume of calls so overloaded the reporting system, emergency managers set up an operations center so that police, fire and public works crews could coordinate their efforts. There were multiple calls of leaking or damaged gas lines, Ryan said, along with fallen power lines and concerned residents asking for help checking on friends and family living in the area.
Multiple power lines reportedly went down near Southeast Fourth Street and Grace Avenue, Clark County Fire & Rescue spokesman Tim Dawdy said.
Power outages affected up to 5,000 customers immediately after the storm struck, but most of those customers had power back by around 1 p.m., with a few outages lingering into the afternoon and evening, Clark Public Utilities spokeswoman Erica Erland said.
“The tornado touched down in a residential area where most infrastructure was underground,” Erland said. Utility crews were able to isolate and reroute power in multiple instances, she added.
Several Battle Ground Public Schools campuses required students and staff to shelter in place during the storm. No damage was reported at any of the schools, district spokesman Sean Chavez said.
Diane Clark, who lives on Southeast Sixth Street south of Rasmussen Boulevard, said she was in her home when she heard a loud noise and looked out her window.
“I saw it touching near my neighbor’s roof, tearing up shingles,” she said. “It went right between our house and our neighbor.”
She said the wind picked up her shed and a canoe and dropped each in neighbors’ yards.
“It was just pretty scary,” she said. “You could tell it was pretty strong.”
Clark said that years ago she moved to Battle Ground from South Dakota, where she’s seen her share of tornadoes.
“I moved here to get away from this,” she said. “This is not what you expect in Battle Ground, Washington.”
The tornado was reported amid a significant weather advisory that warned of lightning, hail and winds with gusts of up to 45 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
Laurel McCoy, a meteorologist in the weather service’s Portland office, said tornadoes occur when thunder showers meet the right kind of winds.
“They’re pretty rare up here but we do get them,” she said.
Regionally, there was a tornado near Eugene, Ore., in the spring and one in Longview in October 2014.
Residents affected by the tornado may call the American Red Cross at 888-680-1455 for disaster-relief services.
Columbian staff writer Susan Parrish and assistant metro editor Mark Bowder contributed reporting.