Tornadoes in Southern California’s Montebello and Carpinteria damage multiple structures

Tribune Content Agency

LOS ANGELES — On Wednesday afternoon, Micaela Vargas stood in front of her Kia Telluride, which she’d parked near her workplace in Montebello.

Unfortunately for Vargas, who lives in Whittier, it seemed unlikely that she would be able to drive the vehicle home.

On top of her car and several others was a massive, leafy section of a tree, thrown there by a tornado that touched down in the area Wednesday afternoon.

Videos on social media showed a dark funnel cloud forming over the Montebello area and debris flying hundreds of feet into the air.

The roof was torn off a Montebello building, several others were damaged, and debris was scattered over the area.

The National Weather Service confirmed Wednesday afternoon that a tornado was responsible for the chaos and that more than 10 structures were damaged.

The weather service sent a survey team to Montebello to examine the scene and determine whether a tornado touched down, said Kristen Stewart, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Oxnard office.

One person was confirmed injured after the event. In addition, several news outlets reported that 11 buildings were red-tagged, meaning they were too dangerous to inhabit, and that an additional six buildings sustained damage due to the rare Southern California tornado. The National Weather Service said it was still completing its report on the damage, a spokesperson said.

The agency had already determined that a “weak” tornado touched down in Carpinteria on Tuesday. It was rated EF0 on a 0 to 5 scale and had winds of up to 75 miles per hour.

One person was injured in the incident at the Sandpiper Village mobile home park. The tornado “damaged around 25 mobile home units and there was minor tree damage to the cemetery adjacent to the mobile home park,” the weather service said.

It capped a period of wild weather across California that brought heavy winds and warnings of tornadoes and landspouts, which are weak tornadoes formed by different conditions from the powerful twisters seen in the Midwest.

The experience was frightening for Vargas, who had been looking outside to see the rain.

“A little tornado started building,” she said. “Then all of a sudden, it started getting so big and it started getting so gray, and you could see everything in the air.”

She saw people running to take cover in the nearby buildings.

“When it’s happening, you don’t know what to do because it’s never happened here before,” Vargas said.

The tornado hit Southern California after a wet and stormy Tuesday set daily rainfall records in the area, including 1.53 inches at Long Beach Airport, which surpassed the previous record of 0.82 inches set in 1983.

Downtown Los Angeles received 1.43 inches, breaking its 130-year record of 1.34 inches, set in 1893.

The region largely fared better than the San Francisco Bay Area, where at least five people were killed, although roadway flooding, debris flows and strong winds were reported.

Flood watches were set to remain in effect through Wednesday afternoon in areas ranging from Oxnard to San Diego, including much of the L.A. Basin. Isolated showers and a brief chance of thunderstorms were expected to wane as the day went on.

High temperatures in Los Angeles were forecast to stay in the 50s — about 12 to 18 degrees below normal.

A winter storm warning was also in effect until 5 a.m. Thursday in the San Bernardino Mountains, where 60 mph wind gusts and up to 14 inches of fresh snow were possible. Blizzard conditions there earlier this month trapped scores of residents and resulted in more than a dozen deaths.

Recent snowfall totals were only a fraction of those seen during that historic event. From Tuesday to Wednesday morning, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Works recorded 10 inches of snow in Big Bear, 7 inches in Crestline, 11 inches in Lake Arrowhead, 14 inches in Running Springs and 22 inches in Green Valley Lake. Crews were planning to continue working during and after the snowfall to clear roadways, officials said.

The rest of the week should be chilly and dry in Southern California, forecasters said, but there is a chance for more rain to develop across the state as early as Monday.