After a waterspout was spotted near Anderson Island on Saturday afternoon, the National Weather Service issued its first tornado warning for the Puget Sound region in 17 years.
There have been tornadoes in the area during that time, though none lasted long enough to generate a warning. The difference Saturday was that the waterspout was sighted and reported, giving the weather service time to warn people.
A weather spotter reported the waterspout over the water around Anderson Island, south of Tacoma, at 12:10 p.m.
A second spotter driving north on Interstate 5 around Exit 120 confirmed the report and told the weather service the clouds were lowering around Steilacoom and University Place, said Johnny Burg, a weather-service meteorologist.
A waterspout is a rotating column of air resulting from instability in the atmosphere — a tornado over water. It becomes a tornado if it touches ground.
The second report spurred the tornado warning for west-central Pierce County at 12:22 p.m. That warning expired at 12:30 p.m., once the waterspout was gone, Burg said. There were no reports that it made landfall or caused any injuries or damage, he said.
“The waterspouts we usually get don’t last very long – this is not like the Midwest where you can get tornadoes that last for hours,” he said.
According to Burg, Saturday’s sighting led to the first tornado warning issued in the area covered by the Seattle office of the National Weather Service in 17 years. The office covers a region from the Cascades to the coast and from the Canadian border to Lewis County. He said the last tornado warning issued for the Seattle Metro area was Dec. 12, 1969.
The most recent tornado in the area was April 27 in Eatonville, but it lasted only one minute, according to the weather service. In 2009 a tornado touched down in Enumclaw, knocking down power lines and trees and damaging barns and sheds.