Star Valley comes together to clean up after rare tornado

Winds reached up to 105 miles per hour, uprooting trees, knocking down street signs and damaging homes.
Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 7:25 PM MST
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STAR VALLEY, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - A rare Arizona tornado hit Star Valley, east of Payson, Sunday morning. The National Weather Service Flagstaff said the tornado damaged about 20 homes, but thankfully no one was hurt.

People living off of Quail Hollow Drive were greeted by 105-mile-per-hour winds around 9:30 Sunday morning, leaving flagpoles and stop signs torn out of the ground. Others are dealing with roof damage and broken tree branches on their lawns.

Carolyn Bennett and her husband clung together for ten minutes while a rare F1 tornado blasted their neighborhood. “The next thing we heard was this noise that was just so different it was a combination of broken glass, twisted metal, swoosh and that’s what I assume my front window got broken up,” Bennett said. “You’re not quite sure what’s going on, we thought something landed in our house.”

Winds were so strong some trees were completely uprooted, like the one next to Bennett’s home. “When we came outside, it was like a different world, and the road was blocked; you couldn’t get down there in a vehicle,” Bennett said.

The tornado only lasted 10 minutes, started one mile southwest of Sun Valley, and finished a little over half a mile southeast of town.

The National Weather Service Flagstaff says an EF-1 tornado hit the area, damaging multiple homes and knocking down trees in the area.

Both Tony Merriman, NWS Flagstaff Warning Coordination Meteorologist, and people in this neighborhood said tornados in this area are extremely rare, especially in town. Thankfully, it only lasted a few minutes, which is characteristic of these rare wind events. “We’ll get these smaller spinning storms, and usually these track tornadoes won’t be that long, maybe about the minutes if that, and that’s what we saw in Star Valley, just kind of ten minutes on the ground,” Merriman said. “Just did enough damage to produce the F1 damage.”

Mayor Bobby Davis, who lives in the impacted neighborhood, said volunteers and city crews have been working tirelessly to help clean up. “We’ve had so many volunteers come out,” Davis said. All these people right down here, chilling up the trees and stuff like that, that’s Tree Crafters, and they’re volunteering all their time not making a penny off of it.”

Davis said while no one was expecting a tornado in their own backyards, they’re going to make sure everyone gets what they need to recover. “That’s exactly right. We’re going to get through this and we’re going to try to get them any kind of help that we can.”

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