A tornado touches down in Joshua Tree Saturday afternoon.(7-7-01)




Small storm still big deal for desert dwellers


JOSHUA TREE - For the first time in modern memory, this community Saturday afternoon suffered through some very scary moments as a real tornado, with a cloud-to-ground funnel cloud that was photographed by residents, touched down near Sunburst Avenue and Dennis Avenue.


JOSHUA TREE - For the first time in modern memory, this community Saturday afternoon suffered through some very scary moments as a real tornado, with a cloud-to-ground funnel cloud that was photographed by residents, touched down near Sunburst Avenue and Dennis Avenue.

Touchdown time was between 12:45 and 12:49 p.m. and by all accounts, the tornado moved easterly for about five minutes before suddenly dissipating.

Torrents of rain which accompanied the tornado wreaked havoc with county roads in the vicinity of Border Avenue and Reche Road, prompting a number of road closures, but all was well along major roadways by 10:45 p.m., the county road department said.

There were no injuries or severe property damage reported in what's now the storm of the new millennium.

San Bernardino County Fire Department units from Joshua Tree found where the tornado touched down shortly before 1 p.m. and traced what firefighter Nick Groff described as a "narrow trail of debris along Dennis Avenue."

Groff said one home on Sunburst Avenue, near Dennis Avenue, "had a little eve over a window torn loose."

From all indications, the tornado was little more than an F-0 on the Fugita Scale, but don't tell Joshua Tree residents and business owners that.

To many, this was the storm of a lifetime.

All agreed they had seen big desert "dust devils" and some had viewed funnel clouds, but none of those interviewed had seen a real tornado, up close and personal like the one Saturday afternoon.

Sunset Road resident Bob Carrington first saw the tornado shortly before 1 p.m. A former Daily Breeze newspaper reporter, he grabbed his camera and snapped a number of pictures.

Carrington's wife, Lo An, immediately called their friend, Steve Lester, who lives in harm's way on Cummins Way.

"I got a call from Lo An. She warned me "A tornado is about to hit your house,'" Lester said. "I took the phone with me and looked outside the front door. Sure enough, about one-quarter of a mile north of me is a tornado coming straight at my house.

"I told her I was going to hang up and that if I was still alive, I would call her back."

Interestingly, just like Carrington, Lester's first reaction was to grab a camera and snap a picture.

"It was so close, I couldn't see the funnel as well as others, just swirling debris. At the last moment, it veered to the east and missed my house by 200 yards."

Lester said the tornado blew a couple of boxes from his back yard over the fence, but he suffered no major property damage.

"It was on the ground for about five minutes. It made a low roaring sound; it sounded like a distant train."

Action Automotive & Tire owner Deborah Sowell was at work at her business in the 61900 block of Twentynine Palms Highway.

"My daughter and I were painting the canopy in front of the shop. I was on a ladder and my daughter was on the roof when a friend, Brad Vickery, saw the tornado and told us about it.

"It looked like a smoke trail going down from the clouds, then it hit the ground. Poof, it looked like a tornado."

"They were painting spots on the cow above their business," said Vickery. "I hopped into my pickup truck and chased it (the tornado). At one point I came to within 150 yards of it.

"I saw lots of red dirt from the desert floor (inside the funnel), but little debris from structures. Then it dissipated right in front of me."



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HiDesert Star