The Last Tornado in Los Angeles

March 2, 2014 by Brian Champlin

After waking up this morning and realizing that there had been a tornado warning overnight (4:00am), exactly two thoughts crossed my mind.

Number one: A tornado? In L.A.? Really!?!? Number two: Has this ever happened before. Where’s the precedent?


And wouldn’t you know it, after a few Google searches I realized that the last tornado of any account taking place in Los Angeles seems to have occurred exactly 31 years ago to the day, on March 1, 1983. If you’re a believer in coincidences, this is at the very least a little strange. If you’re not, then hey, it’s still a fun, novel factoid.

The March 1, 1983 Los Angeles tornado was classified as F2 (using the now obsolete Fujita scale), which signifies “significant damage; Roofs torn off frame houses; mobile homes demolished; boxcars overturned; large trees snapped or uprooted; highrise windows broken and blown in; light-object missiles generated.” Wind speeds for F2’s range from 113–157 mph.

Interestingly, after digging into it a little bit I found some literature that has an actual account of what happened to the city on that day. And it sounds like it puts our current little storm to shame.

From  Los Angeles, California Tornado of March 1, 1983, by Gary Hart, pages 35-36:

“During the 24-hour period from 6:00am on March 1 to 6:00am on March 2, 1983, the full effects of a major winter storm were felt in Los Angeles… The most severe storm-related damage was caused by the tornado that touched down south of the Civic Center shortly before 8:00 a.m. on March 1.”

The report details what the Fire Department happened upon after being called to the scene:

“At the intersection (Hill Street and Jefferson Blvd.) Engine Company 15 found cars blown about, power poles down, and a large amount of debris throughout the area… The Fire Department assisted citizens by providing plastic sheeting and by working with them to cover damage roofs so that the heavy rains would not further damage the contents of buildings.”

For good measure, the tornado even had a go at the convention center, leaving what was then termed as “moderate damage.”

Once the emergency responders had assessed the situation, they immediately activated their disaster relief plan. Command post, choppers, the American Red Cross, and the whole shebang. Fortunately, despite the substantial damage, no fatalities were recorded due to the twister. This was in part due to the preparedness and execution of the multi-organizational network that was previously put in place and designed to respond to emergencies.

An editorial from the L.A. Times on March 6, 1983 provides insight in the way the city handled the event:

“Los Angeles is to be commended for the prompt and efficient manner in which its rescue and anti-looting forces responded to the freak tornado that terrified residents of the city’s south-central area. And equally impressive were the efforts by public and private agencies in providing shelter and care for the homeless victims of the storms in the various areas.”

Well, apparently government can work… sometimes.

If you’re interested. check out some pics below. And if you’re inclined  to read the entire tornado account here’s the link to to the book mentioned above.