A tornado is seen from Sand Point on Monday in the Aleutian chain, about 600 miles west of Anchorage. Sam Albanese, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Anchorage, confirmed that the funnel cloud was a tornado after talking to residents and seeing photographs.
Tornado spotted near Sand Point is apparently a first
CAPTURED: Twister was photographed touching nearby peaks.
Published: August 3rd, 2005
From: Anchorage Daily News
From: Anchorage Daily News
Residents of Sand Point witnessed a weather phenomenon that elders say is a first-time occurrence.
They looked across Popof Strait to nearby Unga Island last week and watched a tornado touch two uninhabited mountains.
"You could see the clouds twisting and debris spinning off of it," said Jaclynne Larsen, 30, a teacher at King Cove who returns to her hometown each summer.
Sand Point, population 908, is on Popof Island, one of a dozen or so Shumagin Islands 570 miles southwest of Anchorage near the tip of the Alaska Peninsula and the start of the Aleutian chain.
Larsen was at home with her mother when a friend, Dwain Foster, alerted them to the funnel cloud. He ran up their stairs and told them to grab their cameras.
Sam Albanese, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Anchorage, confirmed that the funnel cloud was a tornado after talking to residents and seeing photographs. Tornados originate in clouds accompanying severe thunderstorms and touch the ground, unlike water spouts and dust devils, which originate from Earth's surface.
"It's very rare for the Alaska Peninsula," Albanese said.
One reason for the small number of reports of tornados in Alaska is the size of the state and the small population, he said.
"If it has happened, it probably wasn't observed," he said. "We don't really have the means to observe this."
Tornados start in severe thunderstorms, but the National Weather Service's system for detecting lightning strikes does not extend to the area near Sand Point. It's the same story for Weather Service radar, which can alert observers to tornados.
Larsen ran outside with her camera, looked to the southwest and saw the tornado.
"It lifted off one mountain and touched down again on another mountain," she said.
She watched for 15 to 20 minutes.
"It just lifted off of that one and dissipated," she said.
Larsen, 30, had never seen a tornado on the islands. Neither has her mother or grandparents, she said.
Susan Shoemaker, a police department dispatcher and wife of the city's public safety director, was in the parking lot of the Alaska Commercial store when she saw the tornado. She had lived in Kentucky and recognized the funnel cloud.
"We all gawked at it for a while," she said.
Larsen and Shoemaker said the temperature was about 60 degrees and winds were calm. Even more unusual for the island's maritime climate, it was humid and muggy.
Larsen, who teaches first and second grade, will be incorporating the tornado into her science lessons.
"I'm saving the pictures for when we do the weather unit," she said.
"It probably won't happen for another 100 years," Shoemaker said.
I have never heard of a tornado in Alaska. First lightning, now this.