15 years later, Utahns remember tornado that ripped through downtown Salt Lake City
Gary McKellar, Deseret News archives
SALT LAKE CITY — Once a week, Richard Turley would walk from his office, cross the street to Canyon Road Towers in downtown Salt Lake City and share lunch with his two aunts. August 11, 1999 was like any other weekly lunch date.
The three started to eat when the lights began to flicker and went out. Rain pounded the sliding glass doors leading to the eighth floor balcony of the apartment. Hail came down from the darkened sky and debris began hitting the side of the building.
"In the midst of all that, we kind of looked up at each other and thought, that sounds like a tornado," the Iowa native said. "I recognized the signs, but it couldn't possibly be here in Salt Lake City," he recalled thinking.
Turley, then the managing director of the Family History and Church History Department for the LDS Church, left the table and went to the balcony.
"We were in the middle of the tornado at that point," he said. "This funnel, this cloud ran from one side of the Canyon to the other everything was swirling around."
The tornado touched down at about 12:50 p.m. Wednesday at 1000 West, about two blocks southwest of the Delta Center, now called Energy Solutions arena. It hit power lines and some abandoned Union Pacific warehouses before taking off part of the Delta Center roof. The twister ripped up houses and trees in a northeasterly path of destruction for five miles from downtown to Memory Grove to the Avenues.
Utah averages two tornadoes a year, but KSL meteorologist Kevin Eubank said the tornado, Utah's most deadly and damaging, was very rare.
"It took just the right, unique type of storm and setting," he said. "But what it did is it kind of woke up Utahns to tornadoes."
Previously, experts thought it was impossible for a storm to develop between a 9,000 and 1,100 foot mountain range, Eubank said.
"The storm literally just developed right over the valley."
The F2 tornado killed one person, Allen Crandy, 38 of Las Vegas when debris hit his head.
At least 81 people were injured, the tents collapsed at the Outdoor Retailer Show, and at least 300 homes were damaged.
Cory Lyman was working as a lieutenant for the Salt Lake City Police Department over emergency communication and 911 when the tornado touched down. He didn't believe there was a tornado until he walked into his office on 315 E. 200 South packed with colleagues.
"(They) were watching the tornado as it was going up the creek," he said. "I saw the very last of it from my doorway and I went, oh my gosh, that is a tornado."
Soon 911 calls were flooding in. It was something Lyman never expected.
"From a coordination and technical communication perspective, it was pretty primitive," he said of the lack of inoperable radios between agencies and incident command. "We've come such a long way since then."
Despite the years since the touchdown, Turley thinks of the twister often.
"At times when you're not thinking about anything, it just sort of comes back to you," he said. "I'll often look out at the western sky and, when it's stormy I think about the tornado."
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