Tornado touches down near Port Orchard

Dec 18, 2018, 2:45 PM | Updated: 6:35 pm

The National Weather Service reports that a tornado touched down south of Port Orchard in Kitsap County Tuesday afternoon, sometime shortly before 2 p.m.

RELATED: 1972 Vancouver tornado deadliest in Washington state
RELATED: Spring is peak season for Washington tornadoes

The full extent of the damage is unclear, but Kitsap County’s Emergency Management Team estimates dozens of homes were damaged by fallen trees and debris. The tornado also caused a natural gas leak in an area with approximately 20 to 24 homes.

People in the area of the gas leak were evacuated to a local Walmart parking lot.

The NWS will not be able to survey the area until Tuesday night at the earliest. An extensive, official damage survey will be conducted Wednesday morning. Until then, the strength of the tornado cannot be determined.

KIRO 7 reports that a review of Doppler radar data suggest debris (leaves, other litter) was lofted at least 6,000 feet into the atmosphere after the touchdown near the Bethel community.

RELATED: Tornadoes in Washington more common than you think

The Kitsap County Sheriff’s office described the damage done by the tornado as “catastrophic.”

One witness, Jeff Powell, was inside a Walmart at the time the tornado hit. Afterwards, he walked outside to survey the damage.

“The destruction on a scale from one to 10, I’d say is a 35 compared to our normal windstorms,” he told KIRO Radio. “It basically looked like a bunch of toothpicks had been thrown in a line — it knocked trees over into houses, [and] into sheds and vehicles.

The American Red Cross opened an evacuation center at St. Gabriel Roman Catholic Church, providing assistance in the form of shelter, food, clothing, and other urgent needs.

The tornado was on the ground for roughly a minute. Washington State Patrol is going door to door to check on people in the area. KIRO 7’s Jessica Oh reported the first injury from the tornado, after a construction worker went to the ER after being picked up and dropped by strong winds.

While rare, tornadoes in Washington state aren’t entirely unheard of. On Dec. 10, 2015, a tornado touched down in Battle Ground, WA that damaged 36 homes and two businesses.

The winds from that 2015 tornado reached 104 mph.

You can see photos of damage from the tornado here.

Most Washington tornadoes tend to be weak and short-lived – EF0 or EF1 in strength and down and up in less than two minutes. EF0 and EF1 tornadoes have winds of about 110 mph or less. In 1997, the state had a record 14 tornadoes in the year and all were EF0 or EF1 events.

Washington experiences approximately 2.5 tornadoes a year in total, and just 0.1 tornadoes in December.

This is a developing story. Check back for more details. 

RELATED: Washington storms dump snow on mountain passes
RELATED: 2015 tornado damages 36 homes, 2 businesses in Washington town

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Tornado touches down near Port Orchard