Idaho is known for its pristine beauty, but the Gem State is also home to some of the most severe natural disasters in the country. These include wildfires, floods, tornadoes, droughts, volcanoes, landslides and power outages.
Occasionally, thunderstorms will collide and produce a tornado, but these are a rare occurance. They usually last a few seconds and are a fluke.
Tornadoes are not common in Idaho, but they do occur from time to time. It’s usually during the spring and summer months when the weather is at its hottest, but they can also happen any time of year in certain locations around the state.
This Memorial Day weekend, the National Weather Service got a rare treat when it spotted a tornado near Givens Hot Springs in Owyhee County. The EF-0 tornado was not damaging to any structures or properties, said Spencer Tangen, who works at the Boise office of the Weather Service.
While Idaho isn’t known for its frequent tornadoes, it does have a history of strong storms and hail. These natural disasters can cause flooding, landslides, severe weather and power outages.
A tornado is a violent rotating column of air that forms from a thunderstorm and travels into contact with the ground. Several factors determine the intensity of a tornado, including its wind speed.
Often, scientists use a rating system called the Enhanced Fujita Scale to classify tornadoes. It rates tornadoes on a scale from 0 to 5 based on estimated wind speed and damage.
While most tornadoes in Idaho are on the low end of the EF scale, a few of them can be quite destructive. This includes the May 18 tornado in Fayette County, which swept through Swiss Alp and left four football fields of damage, according to the National Weather Service.
In a new study, researchers found that the National Weather Service is underestimating the number of tornadoes that move through rural areas. As a result, they’re not reporting as many violent tornadoes as they should be.
Tornadoes don't come often to eastern Idaho, but this year has already seen the third one. On Monday, a tornado touched down 14 miles east of Mountain Home.
The National Weather Service says it was an EF-0 tornado, which is the lowest possible level. It caused no damage to the area, and there were no injuries reported.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 216 tornadoes have touched down in Idaho from 1950 through 2020. It's the 16th fewest in the nation.
Some of the most devastating tornadoes to hit Idaho were in 1997. An estimated 10 tornadoes hit Washington and Idaho that day.
The damage levels are based on the Fujita Scale, which rates a tornado on a scale of 1 to 5 based on the type and intensity of wind damage. The scale incorporates 28 different damage indicators based on observations made by trained NWS personnel.
If a tornado is forecast in Idaho, you should be prepared to take shelter quickly. The safest place to go is an interior room on the lowest level of a sturdy building, like a basement or cellar.
The next best shelter is a home or business built to FEMA criteria or ICC 500 standards. If you do not have one, identify a nearby building that meets these guidelines and practice going to it during tornado warnings.
In addition to a tornado-ready first aid kit, you should stock up on supplies you can use in case your home is damaged by the storm, such as canned food, water, and emergency radios. Also, keep a close eye on your home for signs of gas or electrical damage.
While Idaho has not seen many natural disasters in the past several years, it is still a good idea to be prepared for a potential weather event. Make sure to stay tuned to local radio and TV stations, a NOAA weather radio, or the internet for updates on conditions in your area.