Tornadoes are some of the most destructive weather events on earth, causing significant damage to property and loss of life. Although they are typically associated with the Great Plains and Midwest regions of the United States, do you know if massive twisters ever occur in California? Additionally, has Los Angeles, with its vastly different climate, ever been hit by one of these devastating disasters? Today, we will explore the history of tornadoes in California, examine the environmental factors contributing to their formation, and assess the likelihood of a tornado occurrence in Los Angeles. Let’s get started!
Do Tornados Hit LA?
Yes, tornados do happen in Los Angeles, although they are quite rare and don’t usually have the devastating impact that they do in other parts of the country.
Want to hear a crazy statistic? There were 44 tornadoes in LA County from 1950 to 2021, which comes out to less than one per year, meaning that Los Angeles isn’t a safe place for someone to move if they are terrified of tornados, otherwise known as lilapsophobia. Most of the storms were classified very low on the tornado scale and didn’t cause all that much damage. However, on March 23rd, 2023, a rare tornado touched down in Montebello, Los Angeles County, causing significant damage to property and injuring at least one person, so it seems that they aren’t always innocuous, especially as climate change continues to impact standard weather patterns.
In fact, here’s an updated list of all of the tornado events to touch down in Los Angeles County from 1950-2021 on the region’s online almanac, L.A. Almanac.
2 of the Biggest Tornados in Recent California History
Although California has had tornados, none of them have been as severe as the ones that regularly hit the Midwestern United States, especially in recent months. So far, no tornado has been the direct cause of death in California, which is an amazing feat alone. Still, a few notable examples are on the record. Let’s take a look at a few of the largest, even though they aren’t large by any standard comparisons.
1. March 23rd, 2023
On March 23rd, 2023, a tornado touched down in Montebello, Los Angeles County, causing significant damage to property and injuring at least one person. The tornado had wind gusts up to 110 mph and was classified as an EF-2. This most recent tornado (as of this writing, only a few days ago) is getting quite a bit of news attention, although it wasn’t necessarily among the most dangerous to ever hit California.
2. March 1, 1983
A significant tornado “outbreak sequence” occurred in South Central Los Angeles, now known as South Los Angeles, on March 1, 1983. The tornado started at around 7:40 AM, which was during commute time, in the South Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. It moved towards the north near some prominent buildings in the city, eventually dissipating near the Los Angeles Convention Center. The tornado caused pretty significant damage to some of the buildings that it passed over and ended up injuring 30. There are no official records of any fatalities caused by this tornado, although some local news stations claimed that nine people lost their lives. Abiding by strictly official records, nobody has died from a tornado in California. Overall, about 150 buildings were damaged.
Why Don’t Severe Tornados Happen in California?
Tornadoes are rare in California because the state has a dry climate and lacks thunderstorms. Essentially, these destructive events happen when thunderstorms meet instability in the atmosphere and something known as wind shear. Wind shear is when winds change direction and speed as you go up in the atmosphere. California’s dry climate means less instability in the atmosphere, which reduces the likelihood of thunderstorms forming. Without thunderstorms, the conditions for tornado formation are not met, making the conditions for severe tornados in extremely rare. There are plenty of dangerous natural disasters to be wary of in California, but tornados aren’t among them!
The worst place for tornados in the United States is in the Great Plains region, an area known as Tornado Alley. As the name suggests, severe tornados in this region are extremely common and include the following states: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, and sometimes Indiana and Ohio.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © artofvisionn/Shutterstock.com
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