The tornado touched down and damaged homes on the Kitsap Peninsula. No injuries were discovered in a primary search, according to the Washington State Patrol.
Dana Stone had finished wrapping Christmas gifts while watching a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie Tuesday afternoon with her dog, Isabella, when she heard a loud pop.
The power cut. Outside, she heard a loud hum — then crashing, the pattering of rain and the howl of wind.
When she tried to look outside, her windows were so covered in dirt being flung about that she had to open her backdoor to investigate.
Her grill was flying about the backyard. The roof of her deck had been ripped off. Tables and chairs had been tossed away. Something crashed through her bedroom window.
Stone, 44, had to carry Isabella, a golden yellow lab, to the bathroom to take cover, because the dog was petrified with fright when a rare Northwest tornado touched down about 2 p.m. near Port Orchard.
It left a trail of mess, debris and shattered nerves, but took no lives in its wake.
Some 50 buildings were affected by the twister, according to Deputy Scott Wilson, of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s office. About 20 homes were also evacuated after a possible gas leak. No major injuries were discovered after a primary search, according to the Washington State Patrol.
Still, the devastation was stark. When Stone emerged from her home, she found neighbors congregating in the street.
“It’s normally a nice neat neighborhood of all split levels and two stories,” said Stone, a real estate agent. “Now, it’s a disaster.”
A neighbor’s shower curtain hung from her tree. Fences were down. Trees had been ripped from the ground and splayed all around. The entire roof was ripped from a house on her block. Her neighbors, though, were largely unscathed.
“We’re all good. Everyone is good.”
The tornado caught meteorologists, and Port Orchard residents, by surprise.
Thunderstorms were in the forecast Tuesday, said Kirby Cook, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
“We were not expecting any to be severe. Certainly this one was,” Cook said. “Part of the challenge with this kind of phenomenon — it’s so infrequent here. It’s hard to forecast.”
The intensity of the tornado was not immediately known. The Weather Service will survey the damage Wednesday and estimate its wind speed, path and time on the ground before making an official rating, according to a news release from the federal agency.
Tornadoes are relatively rare in the Northwest. From 1950 to 2016, 120 tornado events were recorded in Washington state, according to storm-event data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“We’re not tornado alley. This isn’t the Midwest,” Cook said. “We tend to get them in the cool months. This is a cold-season event for us in the Northwest.”
When 18-year-old Thomas Canady first saw dark clouds gathering, he wasn’t sure what he was watching.
Canady’s mother was driving him from his high school to a dentist’s appointment when rain started falling hard, and they saw what looked like “a cloud coming down to the ground,” he said.
That uncertainty only lasted until “there was a large portion of a house flying in the air,” Canady said. “That’s when I really knew it was a tornado.”
Canady and his mom kept driving, following the tornado.
When the wind calmed, they saw sides of businesses torn off, telephone lines on the ground and “huge trees snapped in half like toothpicks.”
“I was thinking, ‘How did this happen? It’s never happened here before,’” Canady said.
The tornado, which traveled northeast after touching down near a Walmart Superstore on Bethel Road Southeast, left authorities scrambling to evacuate people and make sure everyone was safe.
The sheriff’s office described the damage as “catastrophic,” warning residents to stay out of the area or shelter in place. Power lines are down, and gas lines are being checked for leaks, the office said in a tweet.
A gas leak was reported in Stone’s neighborhood, near Southeast Tiburon Court. Residents were asked to evacuate.
After several hours of waiting, a natural-gas company was able to secure any leaks, according to Bob Calkins, of the Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management.
The American Red Cross opened an evacuation center at the St. Gabriel Roman Catholic Church in Port Orchard.
As night fell over the neighborhood, where only the lights of emergency vehicles pierced the dark, neighbors gathered in the occasional torrents of rain, stumbling into water-filled potholes, to talk about whose house was damaged, where they were going to spend the night, how they will prevent looters and when it will be safe to come back.
“It’s surreal. It’s devastating,” said John Mueller, who lives at a home on Southeast Tiburon Court in Port Orchard that lost its roof Tuesday.
Mueller, who said his house is where the tornado “dropped down and said hello,” rescued three dogs, one cat and one rabbit from his house. His four children were uninjured.
“The damage to the house is incredible, but we’ll all be OK. Thank God.”
Stone, who was picked up by a friend and unsure where she would spend the night as of Tuesday afternoon, didn’t know what would come of her holiday plans with family.
“I’m sure it’s going to disrupt Christmas for pretty much everyone on my block,” she said.