The National Weather Service has confirmed a landspout tornado north of Safford this afternoon. Based on social media accounts, the tornado touched down between 4:30-4:45 PM in central Graham County near the Gila River.. Of note, Arizona averages 4 tornado touchdowns per year.
What makes a landspout tornado different from a regular tornado? According to the American Meteorological Society, a landspout tornado’s rotation originates near the ground, not the base of the storm. Low level convergence creates the rotation, which is then lifted upward into the base of cloud by a thunderstorm updraft. Rotation within a landspout tornado is weak, but can produce some damage on occasion.
Landspout tornadoes are very hard to pinpoint on Doppler radar and typically are confirmed once on the ground.
Below is the official storm report from NWS:
PRELIMINARY LOCAL STORM REPORT NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TUCSON AZ 555 PM MST FRI JUL 31 2015 ..TIME... ...EVENT... ...CITY LOCATION... ...LAT.LON... ..DATE... ....MAG.... ..COUNTY LOCATION..ST.. ...SOURCE.... ..REMARKS.. 0430 PM TORNADO 2 N SAFFORD 32.86N 109.70W 07/31/2015 GRAHAM AZ TWITTER SMALL TORNADO WAS REPORTED ON TWITTER WITH PHOTOS AND VIDEO TO BE NEAR THE GILA RIVER JUST NORTH OF SAFFORD. ESTIMATED TIME OF OCCURRENCE WAS 430 TO 440 PM MST. FROM THE IMAGES AND VIDEO IT APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN A LANDSPOUT TYPE OF TORNADO.