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Originally published September 30, 2013 at 9:54 PM | Page modified September 30, 2013 at 10:55 PM

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Tornado rips through Pierce County; rain breaks Seattle record for month

A twister in Pierce County Monday morning ripped off part of a warehouse roof, knocked over empty railroad cars, felled trees and damaged a handful of cars in a matter of minutes.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A rare Washington tornado hit Frederickson, Pierce County, early Monday, whipping up 110 mph winds and causing $25,000 in damage in the course of about 5 minutes.

The twister tore off part of a warehouse roof, knocked over some empty railroad cars, felled trees and damaged a handful of cars in its path, which stretched a mile long and 75 yards wide, according to the National Weather Service.

No injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, heavy rain continued to fall in the Seattle area Monday, topping off the wettest September in the city’s history, with 6.16 inches as of 6 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. The previous record was 5.95 inches, set in 1978.

The rain should clear up a bit by the end of the week, though the weekend could bring more showers, the weather service forecasts.

Meteorologist Gary Schneider called Monday’s tornado “pretty unusual,” especially because it touched down around 7:20 a.m. Most twisters don’t occur until the afternoon, when conditions tend to be more favorable, he said.

The tornado sneaked in largely under the radar because it was smaller than some of its counterparts elsewhere in the country, Schneider said. It wasn’t the only nasty weather that came Monday, though.

Winter made its first appearance of the season in the mountains, where nearly a foot of snow and rain is expected by midweek.

“People planning activities in the backcountry should be planning for cold, wet weather,” weather-service meteorologist Johnny Burg said.

The weather prompted an overnight storm warning in the Cascades, where 5 to 10 inches of snow is expected to fall, as well as a weather advisory in the Olympic mountains, where up to 3 inches is anticipated. Higher peaks, which are less frequently traveled, could have more, Burg said.

The bulk of the weather came through Monday, and by Tuesday it should be tapering off, Burg said.

And it’s still not quite cold enough for snow on the ground to last long.

Even up in the mountains, temperatures are above freezing, and some sunshine expected Thursday and Friday should melt most of the new snowfall, he said.

Over the next couple of days, winds in the mountains could be around 65 mph in some parts, Burg said, although they’ll likely calm down by Wednesday night as well. With spotty showers expected, he added, snow and wind levels easily could vary from place to place.

Still, travel may be difficult for those hiking near some of the higher passes.

Winds Sunday night blew a barge carrying a Highway 520 construction crane loose from its mooring; the crane floated toward waterfront homes in Seattle’s Laurelhurst neighborhood, stopping 5 feet from a dock.

The barge would have hit the dock, except Lake Washington is only 8 feet deep in that spot, so the structure beached instead.

Wind gusts Sunday night were between 30 and 40 mph, the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) said.

The crane barge was refastened Monday morning at its job site, said WSDOT construction manager Dave Becher.

The snowy weather hasn’t been bad news for everyone.

Crystal Mountain Resort is opening its slopes for a one-day special Tuesday to 75 people who responded to a contest on the resort’s Facebook page.

“We didn’t want it to go to waste,” said Tiana Enger, the resort’s director of marketing.

The new snow isn’t nearly as much as the resort will get later in the season, Enger said, which can be upward of 600 inches. And because this snow is expected to melt quickly, only about 30 of the resort’s 600 employees will work, and the mountainside will be open for only a matter of hours.

Enger encouraged anybody disappointed by missing out on the day’s deal to keep an eye on the company’s social media, where she said similar offers are announced.

October brings a handful of these storms every year, but winter won’t really gain a foothold for another month, Burg said.

“In October we start to get some of this stuff,” he said. “The big snows — we don’t start getting those until around November.”

Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Lindblom contributed to this report.

Colin Campbell: ccampbell@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2033

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