The day a tornado tore through Salt Lake City


SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – People still remember the day the sky went dark in Salt Lake City, and suddenly a tornado was rolling through town tearing down the Outdoor Retailer conference and killing one person. Allen Crandy, 38, was setting up a booth for Outdoor Retailers when he was killed in the storm.

The tornado struck on August 11, 1999.

The last time a Utah died in a tornado was 1884. During this tornado, more than 100 people were injured, a dozen critically.

You can watch in the video below how the tornado affected a wedding party at the Salt Lake Temple. The video was sent to ABC4 News courtesy of Darren Schmitt.

When the day started no one suspected how the weather would turn on everyone. The day was cloudy but nothing out of the ordinary– a few microbursts.

But then it started getting dark, and you couldn’t see the sun. Hail was reported in the south part of the valley, and that’s when the storm started to rotate around.

The science behind the tornado

How did the storm get so vicious? ABC4 Meteorologist Erika Martin has researched the Salt Lake Tornado and has spent time as a tornado chaser. She broke it down this way for us. A unique atmospheric setup is responsible for the genesis of the rare tornado. A strong trough lagging over northeastern Utah, and a southerly flow moving higher warm air, raised the dewpoints to the mid and upper fifties, setting up a perfect situation for the tornado to form.

Here are some of the original weather images.

The weak breeze off of the lake is what meteorologists refer to as low-level wind sheer another key ingredient in forming the tornado.

As the storm started swirling and spinning, it intensified rapidly, by the time it reached downtown Salt Lake City, cloud tops had reached over 40,000 feet.

The destruction was fast and terrifying. The F2 twister stayed on the ground for almost 15 minutes and traveled 4.25 miles.

One of the most interesting things about the Salt Lake tornado is the vortex itself began from the ground up, not the sky down. The tornado intensified then moved northeast.

Compared to technology now, meteorologists had a very limited view of the storm, the brand new NEXRAD radar at the airport, and a National Weather Service image from Promontory Point. As the storm evolved directly over the city, radar could not keep up, it took several minutes at the time to make a complete revolution, there was not really any lead time to warn residents of the city or issue a tornado emergency and sound the disaster sirens.

The Damage

The tornado began destroying things at the intersection of I-15 and I-215, the Sun Bar was one of the first buildings smashed.

It was reported the twister ripped down 800 to 1000 trees and smashed the tents at the Outdoor Retailer conference. The tornado damaged 154 homes in the Avenues, and 120 homes had their roofs blown off. In total, 300 buildings damaged or destroyed.

At Vivint Smart Home Arena, called the Delta center back then, windows were shattered and the roof partially torn off.

Memory Grove was severely damaged, and a crane was toppled at the LDS Conference Center that was under construction at the time.

There was so much damage Mayor Dee Dee Corradini asked, “Anyone 15 years old who wants to volunteer please show up at Memory Grove at 8 am Tuesday morning,”

In typical Utah fashion, people came to the rescue of their city.

Utah averages two tornadoes a year. Most of the time they are not as strong as the one that screamed through Salt Lake City in 1999. Thankfully, they usually are EF 0 and EF 1 tornadoes.

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