McMinnville residents come together, clean up along path of tornado

MCMINNVILLE, Ore. - According to the National Weather Service, Thursday afternoon's tornado touched down at the corner of Northeast 14th and Kirby.

A couple blocks away the winds picked up from 65 mph to 90 mph as it moved to a storage building at Northeast Alpine and 12th Avenue. That building had three offices inside and got the brunt of the EF1 tornado.

Spencer Wriggelsworth, the owner of Spence's Auto Repair Shop, was the only one inside.

"I was right there in the chair under the cardboard," the 86-year-old said Friday. "I didn't even get a scratch."

But the tornado didn't stop there. Two blocks more and the winds had calmed down but were still strong.

A blown-out sign signals the end of the tornado. The path that it took was no more than 15 blocks or so all together long but was enough to cause significant damage. It was on the ground for only 90 seconds.

Wriggelsworth's home was an RV next to the storage building. It was heavily damaged, but the community came together to help him out, bringing him a different RV to sleep in as well as food and other necessities.

His friends call him "The Mayor" who deserves the help.

"He'll do anything for anybody," said Roger Young, a tow truck driver. "He'll give you the last 10 cents out of his pocket. I've seen him pay a tow bill to get a lady in here to get her car fixed - out of his own pocket. He's done that more than once."

Besides helping Wriggelsworth with the cleanup, the community has also started the Spencer Wriggelsworth Tornado Relief Fund.

Donations can be made at any Wells Fargo branch.

Cleanup is underway elsewhere and owners of damaged property are waiting for word from building inspectors and insurance adjusters.

The science behind Northwest tornados

It's unusual for a twister to strike populated areas in the Northwest. Recent memorable tornados are the 2008 storm that struck near Vancouver Lake. In 2010 the city of Aumsville was badly damaged. And in March of this year, there was an EF0 tornado in Hockinson.

Unlike the storms in the Plains, it's not very often someone gets to see a tornado like the one that hit McMinnville.

Tornados in this area are tiny by comparison and form and disappear quickly.

At about 4:30 Thursday afternoon, Kelly McDonald was working downtown, He's a native Oregonian so he's used to the rain, but it was something else that caught his attention.

"I heard the wind, and I saw the clouds swirling and immediately started scanning the skies for a funnel cloud," he said. "And so there wasn't a super-defined (funnel) like you'd see in the Midwest storms, because it has a lot of moisture. But when I saw the debris start to swirl up into the sky, then I'm like, 'OK, that's a tornado.'"

McDonald got several people to shelter inside a bathroom, something meteorologists say was smart.

McMinnville police recorded the tornado on video about the same time McDonald saw the funnel. A close look at the video shows the clouds rotating, caused by low-level winds moving in different directions. Only a portion of the storm rotated. In the Plains, the entire storm will, creating a larger, more visible funnel.

The NWS says it is going to keep the video on file so it can study these types of tornados in an effort to better predict them.

The Northwest doesn't get the big tornados like those in the Midwest because the area doesn't get the big clash of cold and warm air masses.

During spring in the Midwest, warm air from the Gulf of Mexico, ranging from the 70s to the low 80s, moves north into parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas. Also in the spring, cold air descends from the north. Where those two air masses meet is called Tornado Alley. As spring turns to summer, the line of tornados advances father north.

In the Pacific Northwest, there isn't the big clash of air masses. The Pacific Ocean is biggest weather-making machine on the planet. But temperatures in the North Pacific are typically in the upper 50s and low 60s. So the tornados that do form are usually small, weak and are hard to predict - and few and far between.

According to the National Climate Data Center, Oklahoma sees an average of 62 tornados a year. By far the worst in the nation is Texas with 155 a year. In both Oregon and Washington there is only an average of three twisters a year.

KATU Meteorologist Dave Salesky contributed to this report.