On September 28th, 2019 the college town of Davis, California was taken by surprise when a tornado warning was issued by the Sacramento National Weather Service. Situated just outside of Sacramento, the area is not one typically known for tornadoes, especially not in the fall month of September. The California valley only averages about 10 tornadoes a year, the majority of those occurring during the spring, and more so towards the northern apex of the valley in Butte, Calaveras, and Amador counties thanks to the Buttes and Coastal Mountain range there that help drive orographic lift. Although tornadoes in California are not unheard of, they are certainly few, and even fewer in the fall! So what exactly occurred with this wild weather?
Around 4:30pm, 10 miles north of Davis, California in the city of Woodland, California a large storm cell began to take form and inundated the city with precipitation. The storm rapidly developed into a severe thunderstorm and left streets flooded with rain and hail. Cloud to ground lightning was reported as the storm continued to grow and swell throughout the late afternoon.
At approximately 5:30pm, the cell had drifted southwest towards the town of Davis, home of the University of California, Davis, passing over highway 113 as it lumbered on. A large hail shaft was evident in the storm, dropping one half to one inch sized hail as it crossed the highway bridge between the two cities, bringing traffic to a near stop as hail pummeled the thoroughfare. Banks of hail formed, taking on the appearance of snow drifts as the hail and graupel continued to fall. From this inundation, cars would later be found to be spun-out, having lost control on the icy roads.
Come 6pm, the storm had strengthened immensely, and reached just short of Davis. A large anvil was evident, stretching and creeping along the skyline. Thunder and lightning activity intensified with increased cloud-to-cloud strikes occurring and precipitation continued to dominate the center of the storm. Nearby temperatures dropped with the Sacramento International Airport reporting a record-breaking low of 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
At 6:37pm, the storm had gone tornado warned as radar-indicated rotation. Multiple gustnadoes were reported from 6:15 until approximately 6:40pm, all precursors to the tornado that touched down at 6:41pm. The touchdown occurred in North Davis along county road 29 in agricultural fields where the twister tossed tumbleweeds and brush into the air, but did no serious harm. With wind speeds up to 74 miles per hour, the tornado was assessed to be an EF-0 and dissipated at about 6:55pm.
The twister, although short-lived and weak, was none-the-less an exciting introduction to Davis for many of the incoming and returning students to the university who had just begun their first week of the fall quarter. Although not quite a rarity, a California tornado is certainly a surprise to all when they come about. The September 29th tornado took many by surprise that day, but is forever etched into the memories of those who witnessed and experienced the exciting atmosphere that day.
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© 2019 Weather Forecaster Alexis Clouser