WEATHER

Utah tornado reports are up, but actual number are level

May 17, 2024, 10:30 AM | Updated: 11:08 am

Funnel clouds were spotted in Midway in September 2020. (Courtesy of Cameron Gibby)...

Funnel clouds were spotted in Midway in September 2020. (Courtesy of Cameron Gibby)

(Courtesy of Cameron Gibby)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns are reporting more tornadoes than usual, but the number of actual tornado occurrences is not going up.

KSL Meteorologist Kevin Eubank said the state is bucking a national increase of tornadoes hitting areas outside “Tornado Alley,” including the southeast United States.

“We’re not experiencing that necessarily here in Utah,” said Eubank, “but we’re also not the place where we would see an uptick necessarily in tornadoes.”

Additionally, studies show tornadoes nationwide are appearing more often in clusters.

As for the difference between the number of reported twisters versus the number of actual tornadoes, Eubank chalks it up to a common misunderstanding of what a tornado is.

“A lot of times, we’ll see a cold air funnel or a little funnel cloud and think, ‘Oh, looks like a tornado.’ But it actually needs to touch the ground to be a tornado,” Eubank said.

According to Eubank, Utah sees an average of two tornadoes per year.

Recent Utah tornado history

Utah has had some recent brushes with almost-twisters.

On April 25, a “landspout” was spotted in Salt Lake County. Whereas funnel clouds swirl from the sky down, landspouts form from the ground up. This particular landspout made national headlines as the start of a country-wide tornado streak. However, it did not actually reach tornado status.

In June 2022, Utah’s first EF-2 tornado in more than two decades felled hundreds of trees and left a trail of damage two miles long. The Enhanced-Fujita, or EF, scale rates tornado strength from EF-0, the weakest level, to EF-5, the strongest. An EF-2 tornado reaches speeds of 111-135 miles per hour and often rips off roofs, lifts tractor-trailers off the ground and uproots trees.

Tornado damages

Some tornadoes have left a costly dent in Utah communities.

The most memorable tornado for many Utahns happened on Aug. 11, 1999. The EF-2 twister touched down in the Poplar Grove neighborhood of Salt Lake City. KSL.com reported that the tornado crossed I-15, flew by KSL NewsRadio studios on 300 West and through a parking lot full of tents. Then it moved up State Street, reaching the capitol and ripping up century-old trees.

In all, the 1999 tornado killed one person and injured 80. It caused $170 million in property damage and uprooted over 800 trees.

That single tornado accounts for 96% of the dollars tornadoes have cost Utah properties since 1953, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and published by The Spectrum.

More recently, a pair of EF-1 tornadoes hit Utah on Sept. 22, 2016. The bigger of the two impacted South Ogden, causing $2 million in damages and leaving a trail 2.85 miles long. The other touched down in Panguitch, causing $300,000 in property damage.

When it comes to crop damage, the most expensive Utah tornado was on Sep. 2, 2021. That tornado caused $750,000 of damage to crops and stretched from North Salt Lake into Woods Cross.

Related: Wind storms in Utah hit hard due to special weather patterns

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Utah tornado reports are up, but actual number are level