October 30 California Chase By William Reid

Subject: California Chase
X-Status: 

Hi everyone!

A decent storm system dropped south through Southern California earlier today
(October 30) and gave my station 1.37" of rain.  This was the first measurable
rain here in Woodland Hills since April 18 --- we had 193 consecutive days
without measurable rain (there were a few traces).  The front/rain band cleared
the San Fernando Valley by about noon, leaving behind partly sunny skies and
unstable air.  

At 1 p.m. I went out to the backyard to take an observation.  There were a few
small cumulus clouds above with lots of sunshine and light winds locally, but
clouds were heavy to the east.  As on all of my observations, I glanced through
a break between trees to the east-northeast to check the visibility.  On clear,
haze-free days the San Gabriel Mountains, about 20 miles away, are easily seen.
This particular observation was a heart-stopper, though ---- my view to the
east-northeast featured a funnel cloud! 

I kind of stared at it for a few seconds----not yet ready to believe that it was
a funnel cloud.  It was about 7 to 10 miles away ---- maybe above Reseda, Van
Nuys, or North Hills ---- not very close, but it was very easy to see.  It
extended perhaps one-third of the way from cloud base to the ground, and it came
out of a very dark cloud base.  The funnel cloud did resemble a funnel quite
closely, close to the shape of a "sugar" ice-cream cone.  I observed no
lightning, thunder, or heavy precipitation area with the storm.  The storm
updraft was somewhat obscured by other clouds, but from what I could tell was
not very impressive.  This was probably a "cold-air" funnel associated with a
relatively low-topped cumulus congestus---perhaps along a boundary of converging
northwesterly and southeasterly winds.  Anyhow, I continued to stare in
disbelief at the funnel cloud --- the first one I have ever seen in California.
I fretted for several seconds----should I run inside the house to get the
camcorder?  Should I call the NWS?  Should I keep watching it?  I was still not
convinced that it was a funnel cloud after all of this fretting --- but it
persisted for at least 30 seconds and it was rapidly changing its form. 

I ran into the house to get my camcorder.  It took a minute or two to get a
charged battery and blank tape together.  When I got back outside, the funnel
was gone.  A very dark and suspicious cloud base persisted, though --- with a
slightly lowered area that might be called a "poor-man's" wall cloud.  I called
the NWS office in Oxnard to report that I was rather certain that I had
witnessed a funnel cloud, and that an ominous and suspicious updraft base
persisted over the middle of the San Fernando Valley.  The NWS employee thanked
me for the report, mentioning that radar did indicate convection over that area.
He also said that the Hanford office had just issued a tornado warning for the
Fresno vicinity. 

I took off to the east with my cameras towards the storm via the Ventura
Freeway.  During the first few minutes down the freeway the storm looked rather
nasty, at least by California standards.  But as I neared the San Diego Freeway,
south of Van Nuys, it was apparent that the storm was becoming disorganized and
moving northeastward against the mountains.  Precipitation was falling through
the updraft, I believe.  I never observed any lightning, and I drove through a
brief, moderate shower in North Hollywood.  It was 1:45 p.m., and my unexpected,
spur-of-the-moment chase was over.

I later learned of a tornado with associated roof damage in Norwalk, California
(northeast of Long Beach). In addition, local news shows tonight featured video
of the tornado near Fresno.  The Fresno footage was of a cigar-shaped funnel
perhaps 70 to 80 percent of the way from cloud to ground.  Due to obstructions
and/or distance, the video did not show rotation on the ground.

William Reid
Woodland Hills, California
CompuServe 73551,2512