- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

AMERICAN FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Pocatello in southeastern Idaho could see the tornado-spawning thunderstorm on their radar.

When they looked out their window, they could see the tornado.

The rare Idaho twister touched down at 6:40 p.m. Wednesday about 10 miles northwest of American Falls and remained on the ground about 20 minutes, the agency said, covering about two or three miles.

No damage has been reported from the small tornado that touched down in a lightly populated area and dissipated near the Snake River, the Power County Sheriff’s Department said.

“A tornado in southeast Idaho is rare. But when they do occur, it’s often in an area right around the Arbon Valley,” said John Hinsberger, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Pocatello.

A two-person team on Thursday was out examining the track of the tornado and trying to determine its rating, he said. It definitely qualified as a tornado, the smallest of which have winds up to about 75 mph, Hinsberger said. The tornado was about 10 miles from the agency’s Pocatello office.

A unique combination of events combined to create the tornado, Hinsberger said. Those events involved wind coming off nearby mountains that form eddies of air, and then one of those eddies getting sucked up into a thunderstorm, where it forms a tornado

“The mountains are influencing the winds coming into the storm, and it’s causing the rotation needed to produce a tornado,” he said.

The last tornado recorded in the area was 2001, Hinsberger said.

Linda Balls, the clerk/treasurer in Aberdeen, said she spotted the tornado before it touched down.

“That was the big thing in Aberdeen yesterday,” she told The Associated Press on Thursday. “It was major excitement.”

Many people captured images of the twister on their cellphones.

In general, Idaho doesn’t have tornados because it lacks the moisture needed for big thunderstorms, unlike storms in the central part of the country that are fed by moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, Hinsberger said.

“Tornados here rely on other mechanisms, like the swirly winds,” he said.


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