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Storm brings lightning and rare tornado warning

A short-lived tornado warning in northern Jackson County underscored an already lively thunderstorm that peppered the terrain with hundreds of lightning strikes Thursday night.

The National Weather Service issued the warning at 7:31 p.m., in a coverage area that included Prospect, Union Creek and part of Crater Lake National Park. Meteorologist Brad Schaaf refers to the tornado as "radar-indicated."

"We didn't have any ground truth for it, but our radar had suggested there was a strong rotation in the thunderstorm, which could have produced a tornado," Schaaf says. "When that happens, we issue a tornado warning, because it's always better to be safe than be sorry."

The danger diminished quickly, with the tornado warning expiring 24 minutes after it was issued at 7:55 p.m. But brief or not, the warning broke a 12-year streak of no tornado warnings issued in the coverage area for Medford's National Weather Service station, which includes Jackson, Josephine, Curry, Klamath, Lake, Siskiyou, Modoc, Coos and Douglas counties. The last tornado warning in that coverage area happened Aug. 21, 2005 — 4,273 days before Thursday's storm.

That no-tornado-warning stretch is the second-longest in the U.S., Schaaf says. Only the station in Eureka, California, has a longer spell: 5,254 days.

Stormy activity began about 1:30 p.m. in Douglas County, with additional storm cells popping up in Northern California and Jackson County by about 6 p.m.

"The cells just started to move to the north-northeast and really started to take shape after 6:30, 7 (p.m.)," Schaaf says.

The lightning stopped at about 2 a.m. Friday. Over a 24-hour period, Jackson County saw 441 cloud-to-ground strikes, more than any of the other counties in the coverage area.

"We were the big winners," Schaaf says.

The stormy weather caused a short-lived but large-scale power outage for an area of Jackson County that covered "pretty much Eagle Point north," according to Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt. Nearly 9,100 customers in and around Eagle Point, Shady Cove, Trail and Prospect were affected from 6:47 to 7:30 p.m., when electricity came back to all but 724 customers in the area of Prospect and Union Creek. Those customers were restored by 9:48 p.m., Gauntt says.

The Oregon Department of Forestry responded to two lighting-sparked fires, according to agency public information officer Melissa Cano. One start was reported near Cantrall-Buckley Park in the Applegate, the other near Anderson Butte. Applegate Fire District 9 and Jackson County Fire District 5 also responded to the blazes.

The Cantrall-Buckley blaze grew to a quarter-acre, while the one near Anderson Butte was close to a half-acre. Extinguishing and mop-up weren't a chore because of the rain, Cano says.

"They were pretty quick and dirty. Because of the moisture, we were all good," she says.

Crews will continue to patrol the affected areas today to keep an eye out for reignitions.

— Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Kayla Stone snapped this photo at the Reese Creek Ranch, on the Butte Falls Highway in Eagle Point, during Thursday's lightning storm.