Springtime in the Central Valley is no stranger to rain, but Tuesday afternoon Turlock residents were on the lookout for a different force of Mother Nature. Warm, spring air combined with a cold, heavy thunderstorm and caused the National Weather Service to issue a tornado warning for Turlock and the surrounding Stanislaus County.
The tornado warning went into effect at 12:48 p.m. and lasted until 1:15 p.m., and during that time, a trained spotter with NWS reported two brief funnel clouds in north Turlock near Highway 99. Though the funnel clouds never touched down, they did cause questionable visibility along roadways in the area, said Brooke Bingaman of the NWS office in Sacramento.
“We had a possibility of a thunderstorm in the forecast for Tuesday, and with that we talked about the possibility of not being able to rule out a funnel cloud or isolated tornado,” said Bingaman.
According to Bingaman, thunderstorms with light hail began to develop in Turlock during the late morning and early afternoon, around 11 a.m. The low-pressure storm system moving across Stanislaus County caused instability in the atmosphere, creating cold, aloft air which was then warmed up by the sun, creating the unstable weather situation which led to the funnel clouds and tornado warning.
“Whenever you have warm air below cold air, the atmosphere wants to get tipsy-turvy,” said Bingaman.
After passing through Turlock, the storm warranted tornado warnings to be issued throughout the rest of Stanislaus County, including Oakdale, Waterford and Hickman. As of late Tuesday afternoon, no touchdowns had been reported.
Tornadoes in California are rare, said Bingaman, with about 10 small-scale tornadoes occurring throughout the state per year. While they can occur in any area across the state, they are most common in the northern half of the Central Valley.
The most recent tornado to hit the Valley tore through Denair in November 2015, and a total of 21 structures were damaged during the category EF-1 storm, which saw winds reach up to 86 miles per hour. Bingaman could not recall the last time a tornado warning was issued in Turlock.
Bingaman added that although there is still a chance of thunderstorms in the forecast for Wednesday, Tuesday took the brunt of the storm. Thunderstorms Wednesday should not cause any more tornado warnings, and by Thursday it will be sunny and dry in the Valley. She expects the next storm to make its way through the area on Friday and into the weekend.
For more forecast information, visit www.weather.gov.