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Southern Utah: Was it a tornado?

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Late Tuesday, this cloud formation was sighted to the north of Cedar City, Utah. For a time, it was suggested that a tornado might be occurring, despite the absence or hint of any official statement or warning(s).

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As the afternoon progressed, it became evident this was a microburst, or downburst of snow associated with very cold, unstable air over the region associated with an upper air disturbance.

But many observers were spellbound—thinking back about a tornado in not-so-far-away Salt Lake City back on August 11, 1999.

On that day, a storm which began rotating just before 1 pm soon progressed into a tornadic situation, and for the first time since 1884, a tornado-related fatality occurred in Utah.

The 1999 storm resulted in $170 million in damage and was the sixth tornado to strike Utah since 1963. On this day, 120 homes were damaged and 34 were destroyed. Windows were blown out of buildings in downtown Salt Lake City, a crane was toppled and there were more than 100 injuries reported.

Tuesday's conditions were caused by extremely cold air aloft and marked instability along with northerly winds upwards of 70 mph at mid to high levels in the atmosphere.

This same system is bringing strong winds to parts of the southwestern U.S., most notably in southern California, where winds advisories and warnings are in effect. Additionally, red flag fire warnings are also in effect there due to extreme dryness, warm temperatures and erratic, gusty Santa Ana winds.