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Tornado damages Kitayama Bros. nursery

Posted: Friday, Dec 28th, 2012

Greenhouses at Kitayama Bros. nursery on San Andreas Road were damaged Dec. 22 by a tornado. (Contributed photos).

WATSONVILLE — A freak tornado left a trail of destruction last week at Kitayama Bros. nursery on San Andreas Road.

Winds as high as 75 mph ripped siding and roofs off of several greenhouses, twisted metal framing and damaged crops.

“It came through around 5:30 Saturday morning but it was too dark then for our workers to see the tornado,” said Dave Kitayama. “There was swirling fiberglass torn loose from our greenhouses. The wind was strong enough to bend aluminum framing. It was very strong. You can see where it bent a telephone pole over a bit.”

Kitayama said the tornado came up off the ocean and worked its way inland.

Damage estimates are being placed at more than $100,000.

Logan Johnson of the National Weather Service of Monterey said he visited the site to take photographs and document the damage.

“We saw considerable damage that was consistent with a tornado about to quarter of a mile inland from the ocean,” Johnson said. “We believe it initially started as a water spout over the ocean and then moved inland.”

Johnson said water spouts typically occur in strong thunderstorms over the water when warm air starts rapidly rising; that accelerated movement then creates a spin.

“Our radar detected rotation in the clouds up to 5,000 feet in the sky,” Johnson said. “Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean the tornado was that tall.” He estimated the tornado to be about 20 yards wide and described it as a weak tornado.

Johnson added that the last recorded tornado in Santa Cruz County was in 2001 when a tornado ripped its way along Freedom Boulevard just north of Watsonville. Winds were strong enough to flop five telephone poles in a row onto Freedom Boulevard. It also lifted up a lengthy section of fence and hurled it hundreds of feet along with trashcans a storage shed and children’s toys.

Kitayama Bros. lost about 25 percent of its lisianthus flower crop and about 3,000 gerbera daisies. Of the 1.8 million square feet of greenhouse space at Kitayama Bros. the tornado damaged up to 40,000 square feet of greenhouse space.

“We’ve never seen anything like this here,” Kitayama said. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”

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