30th Anniversary of a BIG Wind Storm

November 13, 2011 marked the 30th anniversary of one of Oregon’s most powerful and damaging wind storms, the “Friday the 13th” storm of 1981.

The storm formed off the coast and deepened (strengthened) rapidly as it moved toward land. As it reached the coast, the storm’s central pressure dropped to 956 millibars, which is REALLY low! And the lower the central air pressure, the stronger the winds.

Steve Pierce of the American Meteorological Society (Portland chapter) said,

“Violent winds of 90-120mph struck the coastline and 70-90mph struck the Willamette Valley at just after midnight on the morning of the 14th and continued into the post-dawn hours, before finally relenting. The storm made landfall on the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Twelve people lost their lives as a result of the storm, the third highest behind the Columbus Day Storm of 1962 and the Great Coastal Gale of December 2007.”

Pierce went on to say,

“The average return cycle for a storm of this magnitude is about once every 15-ish years. The last notable storm of similar size and path struck on December 12th 1995. Using this methodology, Oregon and Washington are overdue for another “BIG” windstorm.”

Wolf Read, acknowledged to be the Northwest’s premier expert on wind storms, said,

“A gale swept the San Francisco Bay Area, the Sacramento Valley, and northward, hitting typically sheltered places like Medford, then roaring across Oregon, Washington and into British Columbia. The 1981 storm had a broader reach than the 1962 event [the Columbus Day storm]: high-wind criteria gusts extended east of the Cascade Mountains.” In contrast, the 1962 event was strictly a “west side” storm.

Read goes on to say:

“According to the National Climatic Data Center’s Storm Data publication for November 1981, the two storms were responsible for at least 12 deaths in Oregon and Washington combined, tens of millions of dollars in damage to the two states, and power was terminated to hundreds of thousands of customers. Timber losses were high, but not as extensive as the Columbus Day storm–not even close, in fact. The Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (Hwy 520) suffered about $300,000 in damage as waves, swept by 75 mph wind gusts, slammed into the structure. According to insurance companies, the focus of damage occurred between Salem and Olympia and out to the coast.”

This year, I believe conditions are ripe for strong storms. Whether any of them rise to the level of the Friday the 13th event (or even the Columbus Day storm) remains to be seen. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we get one or more strong storms. In fact, it’s probably best to expect such storms, to prepare for them properly: by wind-proofing your home where possible, and by planning for contingencies in the event of the inevitable power failures that occur following “big blows.”

Maybe, just maybe, this winter will be “unforgettable.”

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