Mark Mills walks near the site of where a tornado damaged trailers and a car at Speedway Chevrolet in Monroe on Thursday morning. Mills lives nextdoor to where the trailers were parked and described hearing a noise that “sounded like a freight train” before coming out to see the overturned campers. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Weak tornado hits Monroe; no injuries, scattered damage

MONROE — Meteorologists have determined a tornado was responsible for overturning campers and blowing playground equipment into a lake in Monroe on Thursday morning.

The tornado was ranked EF0, the weakest on a scale that goes up to 5, said Andy Haner with the National Weather Service in Seattle. An EF0 has wind speeds of less than 85 mph.

The Weather Service sent out experts to investigate the damage to determine whether it was caused by a tornado or simply strong wind. Based on the damage, they estimated the wind speeds were about 75 mph and the path of the tornado was about 100 yards long and 15 yards wide.

They looked for evidence of whether the gusts were scattered or blew in the same direction. They searched for distinctive damage to stable, stationary objects such as trees. They also saw surveillance video that showed spinning wind, Haner said.

The tornado touched down briefly in Monroe around 10:30 a.m. A couple of recreational vehicles parked at Speedway Chevrolet along West Main Street toppled onto a car during a period of intense wind, said Debbie Willis, of the Monroe Police Department. A neighbor said the man who owns the car usually sits in it during lunch. If the tornado had happened an hour later, it could have been much worse, he said. The tornado also dragged several RVs up to five feet, tossed small branches several hundred feet and damaged shingles on a neighboring home.

Meanwhile, a Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy was standing near Lords Lake when the wind picked up a large trampoline. He watched it break through a fence and land in the water, Willis said.

Dive teams were sent to fish the trampoline and other objects from a nearby park out of the lake, she said.

Mark Mills, 48, lives next to Speedway Chevrolet. He pulled into his driveway in the pouring rain about five minutes before the tornado hit, he said. He ran inside to grab a dry shirt. From his house, he heard what sounded like a freight train tearing through his front yard. It lasted maybe 5 or 10 seconds.

He went outside to survey the damage. The first thing he noticed was that his trash cans had been tossed 30 feet from where they should be. Then he looked over and saw the toppled RVs. A swing-set in his yard looked as though the tornado picked it up, disassembled it and set it right back down, he said. His fence took the worst of the damage, but overall his property came out unscathed.

Mills grew up in Iowa and used to watch tornadoes much larger than this one rip through the cornfields near his house. When his parents gave him permission, he’d sit out on the back porch to witness the storms. He’s been in Monroe since 2003 and this is the first tornado he’s seen in Washington, he said. Compared to Iowa’s twisters, this one didn’t cause much fuss, he said. But it took him by surprise.

“You could have told me it was gonna happen,” he said. “I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Tornadoes are rare in Washington. There usually are about two per year for the entire state, Haner said.

“It’s not unprecedented, but it’s uncommon,” he said.

The state never has had a tornado ranked as a 4 or 5 on the scale, he said. The largest was an F3 in Vancouver more than 40 years ago. Washington has seen a volcanic eruption more recently than it’s seen a tornado in the upper half of the rankings.

Usually, there are thunderstorms or a strong storm core that can be detected near where a tornado appears. This one came out of a normal Puget Sound convergence zone, and those are “a dime a dozen in the spring,” Haner said. Having one produce a tornado, while not unheard of, is an oddity.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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