SALT LAKE CITY — On Aug. 11, 1999, a tornado descended on Salt Lake City, taking residents and meteorologists by surprise. Even 20 years later, the '99 Salt Lake City tornado is still considered one of the biggest natural disasters recorded in Utah's history.
The day the tornado struck, and in the days following, the Deseret News reported on the disaster, publishing stories on the people who were affected and on the damage caused by the tornado. Looking back on the news headlines from the time tells the story of this unexpected tornado and how people reacted in the days following the storm.
Here’s a timeline of the 1999 Salt Lake City Tornado as told through Deseret News headlines from the time.
Aug. 11, 1999 — “Tornado rips into Salt Lake City”
“A powerful tornado touched down in Salt Lake City early Wednesday afternoon,” the first Deseret News story covering the tornado reads. Meteorologists and residents alike were shocked when the tornado unexpectedly touched down at 12:45 p.m. “As the dark tornado funnel — an uncommon sight in the Mountain West — crossed the I-15 corridor, motorists stopped in their tracks,” the article continued.
Aug. 12, 1999 — “Twister’s terrible toll”
The tornado lasted 10 minutes, moving through downtown Salt Lake City, Capitol Hill and the Avenues. The following day, the Deseret News reported on the casualties and damage caused by the natural disaster. “The twister hit hard and fast, tearing apart buildings, shutting down power and scattering debris for miles. One person was killed and at least 81 people were taken to area hospitals,” the article reads. Even more suffered minor injuries, while several commercial buildings and around 300 houses were damaged. The National Weather Service estimates that the tornado caused over $170 million in damages, making it “the most destructive tornado in Utah's history.”
Aug. 12, 1999 — "Twister is called top weather story of century in S.L."
The day after the natural disaster, the Deseret News reported that Don Jensen, then-director of the Utah Climate Center in Logan, called the tornado the "biggest weather story of the century" in Salt Lake City. Jensen explained that tornadoes in Utah aren’t actually as rare as people had assumed — the state had seen at least 85 tornadoes since 1950 before the '99 tornado — but this one was notable because of its strength and because it affected a metropolitan area. The National Weather Servicedeclared it an F2 tornado (on a 0-5 scale), meaning it had 113 to 157 mph winds.
Aug. 13, 1999 — "S.L. picking up and moving on"
“Day Two of a freak tornado's aftermath has the damage reports flooding in, the monumental chore of cleanup continuing and people struggling to pull their lives back together,” begins the Deseret News article from this day. The city focused on disaster relief while residents in the Avenues pulled out what they could from the hundreds of damaged houses in the neighborhood.
Aug. 16, 1999 — "Tornado victim was a champion of autistic kids"
Five days after the tornado, the Deseret News released a piece honoring the one person who was killed in the natural disaster. Allen A. Crandy was a 38-year-old man from Las Vegas who was in Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market convention. The tent located outside the Salt Palace for the convention was destroyed by the tornado, and the father of three was fatally struck in the head by debris, according to the Deseret News. Crandy co-founded a chapter of Families for Effective Autism Treatment, where he advocated for the rights of those with autism.
Feb. 13, 2000 — "After the storm: Salt Lake tornado victims rebuild"
Months afterward, the disaster was still fresh on the minds of those who had witnessed it. "Six months later, the rebuilding and the healing are still works in progress," the Deseret News wrote. Some families whose homes had been damaged, were just moving back in, and those who had been hospitalized were still recovering from their injuries. For example, Dick Fernandez, who sustained several injuries, was recovering after an uprooted tree broke his leg in three places.
"The last thing I remember was hearing people yell, 'Tornado!' and like a red light in the sky and the wind was blowing and I grabbed a tree," he remembered.