SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Wednesday, Aug. 11 was far from being an ordinary day in Salt Lake City. Winds whipped through downtown, reaching over 113 miles per hour. Trees were uprooted and cars were tossed through the air. Houses and buildings suffered major damage.
Wednesday, Aug. 11 was the day an F2 tornado made a rare appearance in Utah, leaving a destructive path in its wake.
ABC4’s Craig Wirth recalls the devastating tornado that swept through the city. It started with golfball-sized hail and thunderstorms in the early afternoon. Shortly after, a dark funnel formed and touched ground.
In just 10 minutes, the tornado had created a damage path eight miles long across Salt Lake City, from the Poplar Grove neighborhood on the west side to beyond Capitol Hill and the Avenues.
The tornado had caused over $150 million in damages – about $261 million in 2022 when accounting for inflation. The National Weather Service of Salt Lake City said 300 buildings and 800 trees were either damaged or destroyed. 80 people were injured, about 20 of which were serious injuries.
One person, Allen Crandy, who Deseret Times then reported as a “champion for autistic children,” was killed. The National Weather Service said a collapse of a large tent facility set up for the Outdoors Retailers Convention was the cause of death.
The National Weather Service said the tornado was born from colder air moving into northern Utah from Nevada while warm breezy southerly winds blew over Salt Lake City. A “convergence zone” had developed across the Salt Lake Valley due to breezes from the Great Salt Lake. An intense thunderstorm rapidly generated, with clouds extending 41,000 feet high, creating a rare F2 tornado.
“Generally speaking, atmospheric conditions are rarely favorable for the development of tornadoes in Utah due to its dry climate and mountainous terrain,” explained the National Weather Service. “In fact, Utah ranks as having one of the lowest incidences of tornadoes in the nation.”
An F2 tornado is the third-strongest tornado level on the Fujita scale. These tornadoes produce winds as strong as 157 miles per hour. They can cause “major damage” such as blowing roofs off of homes, destroying windows, and overturning cars and mobile homes.
Most of Utah’s tornadoes – on the rare occurrence they do happen – happen between May and August when severe thunderstorms frequent the state. The National Weather Service said Utah averages only two tornadoes per year. An F2 or stronger tornado happens only once every seven years, on average. From January 1950 to August 2005, only 121 tornadoes and 22 waterspouts have been reported in Utah.
Following the destructive results of the August 1999 Salt Lake City tornado, then-President Bill Clinton and the federal government declared the city a disaster area. Much-needed federal funds and crews arrived in Salt Lake City to help with the clean-up effort.
Now, 24 years later, the Salt Lake City tornado lives well only in the memories and the tales of those who experienced it.