The storm that originated in the Gulf of Alaska could be a harbinger of El Nino, the ocean-warming phenomenon that's predicted to bring heavy rain to the West in the coming months, said Kathy Hoxsie of the National Weather Service.
"It's the beginning of the winter season," she said. "We want storms. We want rain. We've been projecting that we're going to have a wet winter and this is a sign that it's going to happen."
California in particular is anxiously awaiting winter rains as it seeks relief from its record, four-year drought. Heavy rain will bring some drought relief, but it is not expected to erase the state's water deficit.
In Central California, a twister Sunday swept through the small town of Denair near Modesto, damaging 21 homes, including one that shifted on its foundation. The tornado toppled trees and fences, broke windows and ripped off part of a church roof.
Wind speeds exceeded 110 mph, said Eric Kurth of the National Weather Service in Sacramento. There were no reports of injuries.
Sabina Woodard said she took refuge with her husband under a hospital bed in their home as their television set and furnishings flew about.
"What I thought was a bunch of birds was a bunch of debris" being carried by the funnel cloud heading their way, she told theModesto Bee. "It looked like a remake of that Alfred Hitchcock movie 'The Birds.'"
Thunderstorms brought hail to parts of Northern California and Sierra Nevada foothills. Rain and strong wind hit the San Francisco Bay Area.
Four kayakers and a dog were rescued after being dumped into 4-foot waves during windy, high-surf conditions Sunday in Marin County. They were treated for hypothermia and released.
Nearby, a 14-foot aluminum boat capsized with five people aboard. They were not seriously injured
Forecasters said up to 8 inches of snow could fall in California mountains at the 5,000-foot level, with a foot possible at the highest peaks.