Tornado strikes McMinnville, destroys three buildings

MCMINNVILLE, Ore. - Three buildings were destroyed or heavily damaged after a tornado struck this town Thursday afternoon.

The National Weather Service confirmed late Thursday night that it was a tornado, with winds of up to 85 mph, that touched down in McMinnville, Ore. The weather service rated the tornado as an EF1 at Northeast Alpine and 12th Avenue and an EF0 at Northeast 14th and Kirby, a few blocks away. The location of the damaged buildings is in the area of Northeast Lafayette Avenue and Riverside Drive.

No one was injured during the storm, Rich Leipfert, spokesman for the fire department, said.

Shortly after the storm hit, the National Weather Service sent a team to investigate eyewitness reports that it was a tornado.

Bill Schneider, a science and operations officer with the National Weather Service in Portland, said his office started tracking a storm cell in the area at 4:35 p.m. At about 4:45 p.m. his office started receiving reports that there was a tornado that touched down.

Two of the destroyed buildings were unoccupied storage facilities. The third unit housed a business.

Officials fanned out from the buildings to search for more damage or anyone injured, but found neither.

Sheet metal roofing that blew off one building hit power lines, which caused a localized blackout, Leipfert said.

Close Call: Man narrowly escapes tornado strike

In the unit that was a business, the owner, 86-year-old Spencer Wriggelsworth, was inside it at the time of the storm.

He's operated an auto-repair shop for 31 years inside the building that had its roof blown off when the tornado struck on Thursday. Now the pieces of his shop and life lie a block away.

"It's gone. I've got nothing," he said.

He was sitting back in his chair with his seven cats when he heard the sound of hard rain and strong wind. And when he saw stuff flying by the window, he thought - tornado.

"I wasn't coming out to argue with it," he said.

He high-tailed it to his office as the building creaked and moaned all around him. The winds ripped off the roof above him, sending a timber into the air. It came down into the RV out back where Wriggelsworth lives and right into the bed where he sleeps.

"I don't really want to tell you what I was thinking, I'll be honest with you," he said.

But he made it through. And while his shop is gone, he's surrounded by friends. He's well-known here. Some people call him "The Mayor."

People brought a barbecue grill to the spot Thursday night to cook him up burgers and keep watch over the place for him. Figuring out the next step for Wriggelsworth and his building would have to wait until Friday.

Some of the people with things in the storage units said they've lost a lot. Father and son Tom and Andy Jackson stored trucks, jeeps and car parts for their hobby of working on cars. They said whatever blew through the unit did thousands of dollars in damage.

They're trying to figure out what they can salvage. They covered everything with tarps to protect it from further rain damage.

They said they had collected a large number of hard-to-find parts for old cars that they may not be able to replace.

The weather service says a funnel cloud also was reported in Hillsboro. Meteorologists expect conditions for funnel-cloud development are expected to end by 7 p.m.

According to KATU Meteorologist Dave Salesky, the types of tornadoes the Northwest gets are usually the smaller types - EF0 or EF1 - with wind speeds of about 70 mph to 90 mph.

Other tornadoes

Tornadoes are rare in our area, but we do get them.

In March, an EF0 tornado did a little bit of damage in Hockinson, Wash. Even though that tornado was the weakest on the scale, it did rip up one family's barn.

A stronger tornado tore up downtown Aumsville, Ore., in December 2010. The twister tore roofs off buildings and uprooted trees. It caused about $1.5 million in damage.

And in January, 2008, an EF1 tornado struck near Vancouver Lake in Washington. The severity of the damage was similar to what we saw in McMinnville on Thursday. The tornado did the most damage when it destroyed the Vancouver Lake Crew's storage trailers.

KATU Reporters Kerry Tomlinson and Hillary Lake contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.