A rare tornado struck a Seattle suburb on Tuesday, causing "catastrophic damage" as it ripped roofs from buildings, downed power lines, and uprooted trees in the city of Port Orchard, sheriff's officials said.
The tornado, which lasted about 5 minutes, touched down in Port Orchard around 2 p.m., the National Weather Service said, with peak winds reaching 120-130 mph. Some people reported minor injuries, but no one required hospitalization, the Poulsbo Fire Department said.
Thursday's storm, an EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, was the strongest to strike Washington State since 1986.
Port Orchard mayor Robert Putaansuu said he was particularly thankful that no one was seriously hurt, given the severity of the damage.
"It's difficult to believe with the amount of devastation I’ve witnessed out there in the last few hours," he said Wednesday morning.
The extent of damage in the tornado's 1.4-mile path wasn't fully known by Wednesday morning, as teams surveyed hundreds of structures.
But photos and videos posted by residents showed dark skies and severe winds. The Kitsap County Sheriff's Office closed some roads in the aftermath and asked residents to stay away from severely damaged areas as gas companies inspected their lines.
While a high wind watch was in effect for parts of the region through Thursday, the severe storm caught forecasters by surprise.
Tornadoes that form near the Pacific Coast can be even more unpredictable than those more commonly seen in the Plains and Midwest.
"They are very shortlived, and that's something unique to western Washington," National Weather Service meteorologist Samantha Borth told BuzzFeed News.
Emily Silverman told KOMO News that she was driving to a store with her husband and 2-year-old son when they were caught by the storm.
“It’s raining and it’s pouring down really bad and before you know it everything was flying everywhere,” Silverman said. “Our car back windows blew out, our side windows blew out ... I thought I was a goner.”
Though her rear window shattered, her son wasn't hurt in the back seat, she told the TV station.
“So glad he’s OK because the whole back window just busted in,” Silverman said. “It was just crazy. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.”
Tornadoes in Washington state are unusual with an average of just two to three per year, and are even rarer in the month of December. The last twister to hit the region took place in March 2017.