A weak tornado damaged greenhouses and destroyed about a fourth of the Valentine’s Day lisianthus crop Dec. 22 at Kitayama Bros., a cut-flower grower in Watsonville, CA. “It was a freak occurrence, [a waterspout that] came ashore on a Saturday morning, traveled about a mile and lasted only three minutes,” said Robert Kitayama, president and chief executive officer of the company.
Mr. Kitayama said National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration agents assessed the twister’s path and declared it a Category 0 tornado. “As it was, at only 70 miles per hour, it did about $700,000 damage in just three minutes,” he said. “Thank goodness it wasn’t a Category 3. They said a Category 3 would have wiped us out. Luckily, at least some of the loss will be covered by insurance.”
Mr. Kitayama said a manager at the company looked at the flattened structures left by the twister and compared the effect to “a giant foot stomping on the greenhouses.”
The loss of flowers being grown for Valentine’s Day led to the company being short of product for the biggest floral holiday of the year, Mr. Kitayama observed. “We’ve increased our plantings of gerbera by about 60 percent so we will have plenty of product for the spring,” he added. Company officials are still deciding what will be rebuilt and where. Final repairs will not be completed until sometime this summer, he estimated.
Kitayama Bros. had crews working on the morning when the waterspout came off Monterey Bay and moved about a quarter of a mile inland, but they were not at the greenhouses when the tornado struck at about 7 a.m. “We are lucky nobody got hurt,” Mr. Kitayama noted. The tornado cut a swath about 20 yards wide and about a mile long, NOAA reported.
The last tornado to affect Kitayama Bros. occurred in 1978, said Mr. Kitayama, when it struck Kitayama greenhouses at a different location in the Watsonville area.