Weekend Weather Blog: Taking a closer look at the west’s most interesting tornado

Backyard storm
Backyard storm(Matt Barron)
Published: Apr. 30, 2022 at 9:55 PM MDT
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —In last week’s Weekly Weather Lab, we talked about some myths surrounding tornadoes. One of the most common myths is mountains stop tornadoes. Mountains don’t stop tornadoes, and tornadoes can form anywhere where the conditions are favorable.

Probably the best example of this is a very strong tornado that happened back in the 1980s. This tornado was called the “Teton-Yellowstone” tornado, and it is a prime example of a tornado that can cross even the highest of mountain ranges.

The tornado occurred on a hot summer day in late July of 1987 (July 21, to be exact). Like all other cases, conditions were very favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

The tornado touched down just east of Jackson Lake in Teton County, Wyoming, and took a path over the continental divide - a whopping 10,000 feet above sea level. Not only did the tornado affect high elevations, but it also was strong. According to the National Weather Service, this tornado was the strongest tornado to ever impact Wyoming.

The tornado achieved a rating of F-4, the second-highest rating a tornado can get on the Fujita scale (the scale that uses damage to assess the wind speeds of a tornado). Numerous trees within the Teton Wilderness were uprooted. Luckily, no one was injured, as the area is very sparsely populated.

Tornado elevation
Tornado elevation(Fujita, Theodore. The Teton-Yellowstone Tornado of 21 July, 1987)

As you can see by the picture above, the tornado was able to cross very dramatic elevations, including the continental divide. While tornadoes in these areas are rare, they do indeed happen. It’s important to know that just because you’re in a mountainous area, it doesn’t mean you won’t see a tornado.

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