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Violent storms rip through High Desert

Published On: Dec 24 2013 04:41:43 AM CST
Updated On: Sep 06 2013 01:50:15 AM CDT

NewsChannel 21's John Hendricks wraps up the weather woes that hit Central Oregon from Thursday's storms, including hail and high winds

BEND, Ore. -

A string of intense thunderstorms rumbled north through the High Desert Thursday afternoon, dropping heavy rain, up to golf ball-sized hail, lightning and damaging winds from a possible "gustnado."

The National Weather Service issued two severe thunderstorm warnings within 45 minutes, first warning around 2 p.m. of a storm 23 miles southwest of Bend, moving northeast at 40 mph.

The second warning came  after a severe storm was spotted on radar around 2:40 p.m.,16 miles southeast of Black Butte Ranch, moving north at 30 mph.

An NWS spotter reported hail nearly 2 inches in diameter near Highway 97 and Empire Avenue in northeast Bend. A tree was reported down east of Bend at Hamby Road and Fletcher Lane.

Six miles southeast of Sisters, another weather spotter reported winds gusting to 60-70 mph and quarter-sized hail. The one-inch hail persisted for five minutes, according to another Sisters spotter.

Wind damage was evident at Good Earth Farms on Deschutes Market Road north of Bend, where workers said what felt like a "mini-tornado" hit around 3 p.m.

"It was a larger than a dust devil but smaller than a real tornado," said Todd Waddell. "It was pretty big -- knocked down a bunch of trees."

The business has three greenhouses, and Waddell said "it pulled all the concrete posts out of the ground. It literally pulled all of our cucumbers out of the ground on that side."

"We were inside the next greenhouse over," he said. "It felt like a tornado, being inside of the greenhouse."

NewsChannel 21 Meteorologist Travis Knudsen said it likely was a "gustnado," short for a "gust front tornado" -- a short-lived, low-level rotating cloud that can form in severe thunderstorms.

Damage was reported in various places - from ruined pumpkins in Madras to a toppled treetop by Bend's Mirror Pond.

At Warm Springs, four trees were reported uprooted and irrigation pivots overturned

Lightning reportedly struck a juniper tree off White Rock Loop in the Tumalo area. A smattering of lightning was showing on automatic detectors along the Cascades rest, but few smoke reports so far, according to the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Prineville.

The storms also prompted an early end to Thursday’s races in the USA Cycling Masters Road Nationals at Mt. Bachelor, with the rest to be made up Friday. Up to three inches of hail was reported on Century Drive, the road to and from the mountain.

Race volunteer Kevin Desrosiers said things went downhill fast: "We all ran for our cars. Some of the first hailstones were as big as golf balls. ... Some of the race barriers were blown over, lightning was striking Tumalo Mountain, right across from the Bachelor parking lot, and on the way down the hill we had to slow to about 25 mph due to 3-4 inches of hail near Virginia Meissner."

In Prineville, Dale Rhode reported "severe wind and dust" from the storms, but other areas saw little if any of the storms, including Redmond and Paulina.

There were severe thunderstorm and some flash flood watches across the central and eastern part of the state -- and even a rare-for-Oregon tornado warning after a funnel cloud was reported in southeast Morrow County, about 45 miles southwest of Pendleton.

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