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Weather Service: Tornado hit Lake of the Pines area

Trees downed but no injuries as funnel cloud touches down at Highway 49 and Combie Road
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A rare tornado touched down in Lake of the Pines, near Auburn, the National Weather Service confirmed Tuesday. Cleanup was taking place in the Lake of the Pines area of South Nevada County after what several eyewitnesses say and the National Weather Service confirmed was a tornado. The unusual weather event took a destructive path through the Highway 49-Combie Road intersection Monday evening. No injuries were reported. Trees were downed, shingles uprooted and branches sent sailing at about 5:45 p.m. Monday in an area near Lake of the Pines that includes a fire station and several businesses. The National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for the Lake of the Pines area about an hour before the swirling mass of air, tree limbs and branches hit. Weather bureau meteorologists from Sacramento visited the damage and talked to witnesses Tuesday before determining that a twister had touched down, the Weather Service's Tom Dang said. Mikel Paul, owner of Lake of the Pines Music, said he was watching the funnel formation from outside the business's front door as it approached. "Then all of a sudden, the parking lot was filling with tree limbs," Paul said. "The sound was like a 'whoosh' and you could feel the pressure of the air." The tornado was waving in the same way that a human-shaped balloon at car dealerships waves, twisting back and forth, he said. "It was zigzagging and waving all over the place," Paul said. While the tornado moved past the brick building his business is in, it knocked down trees and tore off shingles at the adjacent Artistic Edge Salon & Spa. The business was closed early in the day Tuesday as telephone lines were reconnected and tree limbs removed from the roof and grounds. The salon's Michelle McClure said Artistic Edge was expected to open later in the day. The tornado path continued to the west, knocking over large oak trees on 54-year Higgins Corner resident Erik Peterson's property. Peterson said he'd never experienced anything similar, although high winds in the past may have been tornados. "I've never heard the word 'tornado,' used here before," Peterson said. Before hitting the northwest section of the Highway 49-Combie crossroads, the funnel had uprooted a tree at the Higgins Fire Protection District station on the other side of the highway. Four California Department of Forestry firefighters were inside the crew quarters eating dinner when the funnel struck, sending the top of the building’s chimney sailing and uprooting one oak on the property. Capt. Robert Bartsch said that the noise was so loud at one point, he thought the roof had blown off. Crews were busy Tuesday cleaning up debris and sawing the downed tree and several other large limbs. By early Tuesday, the National Weather Service had confirmed one tornado touchdown in Yuba City as a result of Monday’s storm, as well as others in Lake of the Pines and Elk Grove. The tornado that tore through the Combie crossroads also hit farther north along rural Brewer Road and Egbert Hill. Several trees and branches had been downed in those areas. Cleaning up branches along his property line, Brewer Road resident Norm Harlan said that one large tree limb missed his house by 30 feet as it crashed to the ground. “I was on the deck when the swirling started,” Harlan said. “I went inside but didn’t feel safe in front of my window. I’ve never been in a tornado before. I’ve never seen wind like that before.” Dang said the weather bureau’s basis for determining that a tornado hit Lake of the Pines was based on witness accounts, extent of damage and a radar activity. Wind speeds during the Lake of the Pines tornado were estimated at 90 to 100 mph, he said. The tornado was rated at 1 out of a possible 5, Dang said. “But when you look at Northern California tornados, more than half are rated at zero on the same scale,” Dang said. “In those terms, it could be rated in the upper echelon of Northern California tornados.”