Sacramento area residents count their blessings amid tornado damage
Tuesday in Elk Grove was a day to clean up and count blessings.
A day after a powerful twister hopscotched its way from subdivision to subdivision in the south end of the city – toppling fences, tearing off roof tiles and uprooting trees – neighbors took stock of storm damage that seemed more like Kansas than California.
"We looked up and the sky was black," Irene McAlister said. McAlister and husband John live on Roedell Way in Elk Grove's Waterman Ranch neighborhood and had attended a granddaughter's volleyball game when the storm struck.
"California doesn't have tornadoes."
On most other days, she would be right.
But on a wild, wet, windy Monday, tornadoes were spotted at no fewer than four sites across four counties, from Sutter County farmland nearYuba City to Browns Valley in Yuba County;Lake of the Pines in Nevada County; and in Elk Grove, where 52 structures and a commercial building were damaged.
The commercial building, an International Paper plant at Waterman and Grant Line roads, took the brunt of the winds. The twister ripped a 20-foot-by-50-foot hole in the plant's roof, said Elk Grove police spokesman Christopher Trim.
But the wind didn't stop there. Sylvia Harris was at home on Roan Ranch Circle with her son Steven, 7, the doors open to enjoy the fresh air. Her husband, Steve, was headed home. It was 4:55 p.m.
Steve Harris surveyed the damage Tuesday – plywood on the windows, a tree crumpled in the front yard, broken tiles the size of skipping stones seemingly everywhere. He told his wife's story because she was still too shaken to talk about what happened.
"She saw it and had to use the full force of her weight to close the door," he said. "She hid in the bedroom. The whole house was just shaking. She's never experienced something like that. I'm just thankful the Lord protected her."
The Harrises escaped unharmed. No one was hurt in Elk Grove.
"The important thing is that there were no injuries. The roadways are clear. Now, it's just time for clean up," Trim said.
No injuries were reported in any of the towns where tornadoes touched down, said National Weather Service officials in Sacramento, even with winds topping 90 mph in the tornado zones.
The four tornadoes Monday fell just short of a Northern California record – five twisters struck on one day in 1996 – but John McAlister wasn't concerned with the record books.
The whirlwind mowed down the McAlisters' fence, yanked a front yard flagpole out of the ground and flung it onto Roedell Way. It tore a path through the McAlisters' backyard, cutting a diagonal swath through several more yards, turning plywood into scrap before bounding onto another block.
The downed, broken trees in the McAlisters' backyard?
Who knows, Irene McAlister said. She thinks they're the neighbors'.
"I think we were entirely fortunate. It could've been a lot worse but for the grace of God," said John McAlister. "All the way down the line, people have damage."
What caused the violent weather?
A cold front passed through the area with a rush of cold air behind it, said National Weather Service meteorologist Stefanie Henry. That collided with warm air rising from the ground.
"It's kind of a prime situation" for severe weather, the meteorologist said.
Henry said forecasters expect the weather to be calmer this evening, with warmer, drier conditions heading into the weekend.
The storm dropped snow in the Sierra, where a winter weather advisory remained in effect above 3,500 feet, Henry said. A second snowfall Monday night brought about 10 inches of snow to many Tahoe and Truckee neighborhoods and more than another foot to Donner Summit, where Boreal Ski Resort plans to open Friday.
Another, lighter system is on the way, forecasters said, with 3 inches to 6 inches expected this morning below 7,000 feet and 6 inches to 8 inches above. But this system is expected to clear out by Thursday.
Throughout the day Tuesday, utility crews, contractors, roofers and satellite installers crisscrossed neighborhoods and stayed busy on rooftops and along fence lines.
Meanwhile, Elk Grove city crews continued to assess the damage, set aside Dumpsters in the hardest hit neighborhoods and remind residents to follow up with their insurers.
They warned residents to be leery of unsolicited workers offering repair services.
"The city isn't going to send someone unsolicited into the area," Trim said.
Hardip Singh looked skyward at the roofers clearing and repairing tiles at his home on Rhone River Drive near Waterman and Grant Line roads. He was at home when the storm hit just before 5 p.m. Monday. On Tuesday, he looked past the small mounds of tiles piled in the yard and rippling the hood of his car.
"It looked like people were taking the tiles and throwing them," he said of the storm.
In the Clarke Farms neighborhood near Elk Grove Boulevard and Bradshaw Road, John Waggoner was repairing a section of fence at his home on Glacier Creek Way.
He's from tornado country. He was born in Kansas and lived in Nebraska and North Dakota.Cleaning up after a twister in Northern California was not on his to-do list.
"It's supposed to be sunny beaches and piña coladas," Waggoner said. "It's kind of crazy."