A majority of the destructive surface winds in Oregon are from the southwest. Under certain conditions, very strong east winds may occur, but these are usually limited to small areas in the vicinity of the Columbia River Gorge or other low mountain passes. These east winds result when an intense pressure gradient (a pressure gradient is just the change of pressure over some short distance) develops between a high pressure center over the Upper Columbia River Basin and a strong low pressure area over the eastern Pacific Ocean. The narrow section of the Gorge funnels the winds, resulting in strong winds at the exit point of the gorge. At one particular location, Crown Point, located about 20 miles east of Portland, easterly winds with a 24-hour average of more than 50 mph, while gusts in excess of 120 mph have been observed.
The much more frequent and widespread strong winds from the southwest are associated with storms moving onto the coast from the Pacific Ocean. If the winds are from the west, they are often stronger on the coast than in the interior valleys due to the north-south orientation of the Coast Range and Cascades. These mountain ranges obstruct and slow down the westerly surface winds.
The most destructive winds are those which blow from the south, parallel to the major mountain ranges. The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 was a classic example of a south wind storm. The storm developed well off the coast of California and moved from the southwest then turned, coming directly from the south and toward the south Oregon coast. Atmospheric pressure fell rapidly ahead of the storm center and rose rapidly once the storm center passed, creating very tight and sharp pressure gradients. When the strong surface winds are further reinforced by upper air flow in the same direction, as was the case in the Columbus Day Storm, the surface wind speed are enhanced.
All official wind observations in Oregon have been at valley locations where both the surface friction and the blocking action of the mountain ranges sustantially decrease the speed of surface winds. Even the more exposed areas of the coast are lacking in any continuous set of wind records. From unofficial, but reliable, observations it is reasonable to assume that gusts well above 100 mph occur several times each year across the higher ridges of the Coast and Cascades Ranges and at the most exposed coastal points. At the most exposed Coast Range ridges, it is estimated that wind gusts of up to 150 mph and sustained speeds of 110 mph will occur every 5 to 10 years.
December 1-3, 2007 A relentless storm pummeled the Oregon and Washington Coasts for 3 days bringing the strongest winds the area has seen since the Columbus Day storm.
Dec 15, 2005 A decent wind storm moved up the Willamette Valley bringing strong winds to the central and southern valley.
February 7, 2002 In the late afternoon on February 7, 2002 a strong developing low pressure system came onshore in Southwest Oregon and quickly moved northward into the lower Willamette Valley. This storm intensified rapidly and produced 50 to 70 mph wind gusts in Lane and Linn Counties over about a 2 to 3 hour time frame and caused significant property damage and power outages in these counties. Sustained winds at the Eugene airport was 43 knots (49 mph). Maximum wind gusts reported over the region as the low pressure system moved onshore and into the valley ranged from 88 mph in Bandon, OR, 84 mph in Gold Beach, to 70 mph in Eugene, OR.
Read our storm survey report for more details and photographs.
December 12, 1995 Record low barometric pressure reading for the state of Oregon occurred with this storm. For more information on this storm, see the Oregon State Climate Service web site.
The following storm summary was written by George Taylor, Oregon State Climatologist.
"[On December 11, 1995, a large low pressure storm approached the southern Oregon-northern California coast and began to slow and deepen. Its central pressure at sea level began to drop precipitously, and the National Weather Service began to issue high wind warnings for the coast and the inland valleys. Later that day, very high winds struck California, knocking down trees as far south as the Bay Area.
On the morning of the 12th, the area of highest winds reached the Oregon coast as the low, still offshore, moved northward. Late that morning, Sea Lion Caves near Florence topped out at 119 mph before problems developed with the anemometer (no wonder!). In Newport, a gust of 107 mph occurred downtown, while Astoria and Cape Blanco also had gusts of over 100 mph. Astoria's air pressure dropped as low as 28.53 inches, an all-time record (and comparable to the central pressure of a Category 2 hurricane!). Gusts in the Willamette Valley exceeded 60 mph. Hundreds of thousands were without power, there was widespread damage to homes, buildings, and boats, and four citizens lost their lives.
Roger Cunningham is a consultant who lives in Florence and maintains a home weather station and impeccable records. I'll let Roger describe what happened:
The wind, of course, was the big story. In my three years with a good anemometer, I'd never exceeded 36 mph-- until about 9:45 AM on Tuesday, when the wind reached 37. Just after 10 a.m. it gusted to 42. The morning began with light winds, but I knew what was coming. When the electricity failed at 10:30 AM my instrument went on battery power, so I had to keep the display blank most of the time to conserve battery. I checked the peak gust occasionally, and had a gust to 45 mph around noon and the biggest of all, 48 mph, just after 2 p.m.. This peak level was very puny (fortunately!) compared to most of the coast, because I'm 2.5 mi inland in a protected area. The local cable TV office had a gust to about 85 mph 2 mi SSW of me. Sea Lion Caves, on a very exposed headland 250 ft in elevation about 8 mi NNW of me had a 119 mph gust. Newport, 50 miles to the north, gusted to 107 mph, and North Bend AP, 50 miles to the south, gusted to 86 mph."
The very wet soil following an unusually rainy fall caused many large trees to topple over. In the Willamette Valley, it appeared that there were more trees uprooted than snapped above ground. After foresters assess the damage in remote areas, we expect that very large losses of standing timber will be reported.
Many people have asked how this storm compared with big wind events in the past. Although coastal wind velocities were similar, inland winds were much lower in the recent storm. For example, winds were measured at 116 mph on the Morrison Street Bridge in Portland in the 1962 storm, while maximum gusts in the area in the 1995 storm were probably 70- 80 mph. Twenty-three Oregonians died in the 1962 storm, four in 1995. More comparable to this storm were several other big wind events which have struck Oregon in the last 20 years. These include storms in February, 1979; November, 1981; and January, 1990. Four comparable storms in 20 years suggests that the current storm was about a 5-year event (although establishing return periods for such extreme cases is tenuous at best). As I said to an Oregonian newspaper reporter: "this wasn't the storm of the century, nor perhaps even the storm of the decade, but it was certainly the storm of the year." Of that, at least, we can be certain.]"
November 13-15, 1981 The strongest wind storm since the infamous Columbus Day storm of 1962 struck the Pacific Northwest with a one-two punch combination. The first punch was delivered Friday, November 13, and early Saturday, November 14, when an intense low-pressure area tracked northward 150 to 200 miles west of the Oregon coast. The central pressure of the low was 958 millibars (mb), 2 mb lower than the 1962 storm, but the storm track was about 90 miles farther west of the 1962 storm track. The second punch was delivered on Sunday, November 15, when a second somewhat weaker low pressure area following a track similar to the first storm caused strong winds over the area again. These winds occurred as people were still recovering from the effects of the first storm.
Strong winds spread into the Pacific Northwest from the south then evening of Friday, November 13. Wind gusts as high as 75 mph and 62 mph were observed at Brookings and Medford, respectively. North Bend recorded gusts to 92 mph, the strongest official wind gust of the storm. An unofficial report of gust above 100 mph were recorded by an anemometer located at the Whiskey Run wind generator site owned by Pacific Power and Light Company in Curry county, Oregon from 9 pm PST to midnight. Other significant recorded wind gusts were: Coos Bay with 40 mph, Chetco River 75 mph, Eugene 58 mph, Salem and Portland both with 71 mph. Winds spread in Washington during the morning of November 14. Hoquiam reported wind gusts to 70 mph, Seattle to 67 mph, and Olympia to 64 mph. Strong winds also spread as far east as Boise and Reno, where gusts to near 100 mph were reported.
The second storm spread winds t near 60 mph along the Oregon coast beginning Saturday morning, November 15. Portland recorded wind gusts to 57 mph, Boeing Field near Seattle had wind gusts to 48 mph, SEA-TAC airport had gusts to 51 mph, and Olympia airport had wind gusts to 58 mph.
The November 13-14 storm did the most damage. However, the one-two punch of the two storms resulted in more damage from the weaker, second storm than normally would have been expected. Eleven people were killed and $50 million in damage were reported as a result of the two wind storms. This compares to 38 fatalities and damage in excess of $200 million for the 1962 Columbus Day storm.
The fatalities attributed indirectly to the first storm included a 53 year old Albany, Oregon man, who was crushed when a tree fell on his mobile home; a 50 year old Portland man was electrocuted when he picked up a live wire that had fallen across his driveway; a 64 year old man who suffered a heart attack and died while crawling out of the wreckage of his trailer at Tillicum Beach State Park after a tree had fallen on it; and a Coast Guard pilot was killed when his helicopter crashed off the Oregon coast in 60 mph winds while searching for a missing fishing boat. Many other deaths occurred in traffic and boating accidents.
Numerous injuries resulted from wind-blown debris in western Washington and Oregon. Damage was widespread, including hundreds of downed trees and power lines across the Pacific Northwest. Roof damage was common. For example, on November 14, winds ripped of the 2,500 square feet roof of the Homestead Restaurant in North Bend, Oregon. Downed power lines caused massive power outages. Estimates indicated that nearly 500,000 homes were without power for at least a short time during the weekend. Damage to standing timber was extensive from Washington to northern California. In northern California, winds toppled a dozen five-feet thick redwood trees across U.S. 101, blocking traffic for hours.
Bridges also took a beating during the storm. The Columbia River bridge at Astoria was closed at 2:45 pm Saturday because of high winds. The Evergreen Point Floating Bridge on Lake Washington in Seattle was closed at 8:00 am Saturday because of high winds and water flowing into traffic lines. The bridge experienced extensive damage to anchor cables and wave deflectors.
There was also considerable damage to marine interests from both strong winds and wave action. At Newport, Oregon, several fishing boats broke their moorings and were beached, while a 300 foot dock broke away and was totally destroyed. According to port officials, damage estimates at Newport reached nearly $3 million. In Seattle, Saturday morning's high winds pushed an anchored freighter several miles across Elliott Bay. It was finally intercepted by tug boats, within 20 feet of destroying a downtown pier. At the Port of Portland, a 1,100 foot tanker broke loose and bumped another ship moored nearby. Port spokesperson said the ship's bow line broke, allowing it to swing out "like a big steel sail." Olympia's West Bay Marina was heavily damaged with estimates well over $1 million. Four hundred and fifty boats were in the marina before the storm struck. After the storm, some boats were blown from their moorings and found as far away as 10 miles to the north.
Many airports across Oregon and Washington suffered damage. At the Hillsboro airport, one airplane was flipped upside down and several hangers were damaged. Three light planes at Salem's McNary Field were damaged by winds that flipped them on their backs Friday night.
While damage was extensive throughout western Oregon and Washington as a result of the strong winds, it was still considerably less than that resulting from the 1962 Columbus Day storm.
March 25-26, 1971 An intense Pacific storm center moved into northwestern Washington, bringing damaging winds across most of Oregon as the associated cold front marched east during the early part of the 26th. Damage was scattered along the coast, but was more widespread in the Willamette Valley, and the counties along the Columbia River. Complete roofs or portions of roofs were blown off homes in Portland, Woodburn, and Gresham while several mobile homes and campers were blown over. Numerous windows were broken and road signs damaged. Many trees were toppled in the high winds, falling onto homes and power lines. Over 6000 power outages occurred in the Willamette Valley and along the coast, with many outages lasting up to 5 hours. A ship and a barge broke loose from their moorings at the Portland docks, and a 60-foot fishing boat was in distress of Haceta Head. A large semi-truck and trailer parked in Newport, was blown over. Considerable destruction occurred to standing timber in southern Lane county and northern Douglas county when a logging balloon was damaged extensively when ripped from its moorings.
Strongest Winds of the 1971 Windstorm
Pacific City Weather Office
Mt Hebo Air Force Radar
Brookings Weather Service Office
Portland Weather Forecast Office (airport)
Portland, downtown at Morrison Bridge
Salem Weather Service Office
Eugene Weather Service Office
Burns Weather Service Office
Pendleton Weather Service Office
Baker City Weather Service Office
October 2, 1967 This storm brought the highest winds recorded since the Columbus Day storm of 1962 to much of western, central, and northeastern Oregon. Significant widespread damage occurred to agriculture, timber, power and telephone utilities, and homes. Portland airport recorded a fastest mile of 70 mph. Wind speeds of 100 to 115 mph were unofficially recorded along the Oregon coast. There was one fatality and about 15 persons were seriously injured.
March 27, 1963 This storm was the most intense along the coast, where wind gusts from several observations made on unofficial instruments were in excess of 100 mph. Wind speeds were diminished as the storm moved inland, but they were still capable of causing widespread destruction. Portland had a fastest mile of 57 mph with a peak gust of 63 mph. Salem had a fastest mile of 39 mph with a peak wind gust of 68 mph. Eugene recorded a fastest mile of 48 mph with a peak wind gust of 75 mph. Note: a fastest mile is measure of how fast one mile of air passes a given point in one minute.
October 12, 1962...the Columbus Day Storm (
historical photographs )
A generation of Oregonians received searing memories that day. This quintessential windstorm became the standard against which all other statewide disasters are now measured. The storm killed 38 people and injured many more and did more than 200 million dollars in damage (over 800 million in today's dollars). Wind gusts reached 116 mph in downtown Portland. Cities lost power for 2 to 3 weeks and over 50,000 dwellings were damaged. Agriculture took a devastating blow as an entire fruit and nut orchards were destroyed. Scores of livestock were killed as barns collapsed or trees were blown over on the animals.
RARE AUDIO FILES :
KGW AM 620 broadcasts during the Columbus Day storm in October 1962. Jack Capell, Wes Lynch and the entire KGW staff find they're the only radio station on the air to keep Portland informed about the storm. This broadcast, with scary music, originally aired one week after the storm.
Wind Speeds of the Columbus Day 1962 Storm
Strongest Wind Speed
Sustained 44 mph, peak gust of 96 mph
Peak gust of 138 mph before wind instrument
Mt Hebo radar site
Unofficial wind gust of 130 mph.
Peak gust of 81 mph
frequent gusts 88 mph, with peak wind gust
of 104 mph (estimated since power was lost)
Peak wind gust of 93 mph
Morrison Bridge, Portland
Peak wind gust of 116 mph
Peak wind gust of 90 mph
Sustained wind of 66 mph, peak gust 106
Sustained wind of 58 mph, peak gust 90
Peak wind gust of 127 mph at the airport
Sustained wind of 63 mph, peak gust of
Peak wind gust of 62 mph
Peak wind gust of 58 mph
Peak wind gust of 65 mph
Peak wind gust of 58 mph
Peak wind gust of 47 mph
Peak wind gust of 29 mph
Peak wind gust of 42 mph
November 3, 1958 Sustained wind speed of 51 mph with gusts to 70 mph were reported at the Portland airport. Other high wind speeds reported were: Pendleton 51 mph; Astoria wind gust of 75 mph; and Columbia Lightship wind gust of 90 mph. Many millions of board feet of timber were blown down. At one time every major highway in western Oregon was blocked at one or more points by fallen trees. Damage to buildings and utility lines was widespread.
December 21-23, 1955 High winds were felt across most of the state. North Bend reported sustained wind speeds of 70 mph with gusts to 90 mph. Dallesport, Washington, located across the Columbia River from The Dalles, reported sustained winds of 66 mph. Pendleton reported 61 mph sustained winds speeds with gusts to 69 mph. Most regular observing stations recorded sustained wind speeds of 55 to 65 mph, with gusts considerably higher. Portland airport recorded a peak wind gust of 62 mph. In addition to the extensive damage to buildings, power and telephone lines, heavy destruction occurred in the Willamette Valley orchards and standing timber across the state.
December 4, 1951 This storm reached its greatest intensity along the coast, where unofficial observations reported sustained wind speeds between 60 and 100 mph, while inland valley locations reported sustained wind speeds up to 75 mph. The fastest mile at Portland airport was 57 mph, Baker at 42 mph, and Roseburg with 40 mph. Serious damage to buildings and widespread power losses occurred throughout the state.
November 10-11, 1951 Sustained southerly to southwesterly winds of 40 to 60 mph occurred over nearly the entire state, with gusts of 75 to 80 mph at many locations. Portland Airport reported a fastest mile of 56 mph. There was extensive damage to power lines, buildings, and standing timber.
April 21-22, 1931 Very strong northeast winds caused widespread damage, particularly across northern Oregon. While officially recorded wind speeds were not extreme, sustained wind speeds observed were: 36 mph at Medford, 32 mph at Portland, 28 mph at Baker, and 27 mph at Roseburg. Unofficial wind measuring equipment reported winds of up to 78 mph. Damage was heavy to standing timber and fruit orchards. Dust was reported by ships as far as 600 miles from shore. Dust continued to settle on exposed areas for many days after the storm.
January 29, 1921 The fastest mile speed of 113 mph was officially recorded at the north head of the mouth of the Columbia River on the Washington side. Astoria, unofficially, reported wind gusts up to 130 mph. Hurricane-force winds were reported along the entire Oregon and Washington coasts. The very strong winds were also reported in the Willamette Valley. Obviously there was widespread damage to buildings and standing timber. Note: a fastest mile is measure of how fast one mile of air passes a given point in one minute.
January 9, 1880 In Portland, sustained south wind speeds of 60 mph were observed. Elsewhere, south winds were reported as high as 65 mph with gusts to 80 mph. Thousands of trees, many five to eight feet in diameter, were easily toppled in the high winds. Scores of buildings throughout the Willamette Valley were destroyed. Hundreds more, including numerous large public buildings, were severely damaged. At Coos Bay, a 3-masted schooner, dragging its anchor, was blown on to the beach and split in half. Widespread areas of wind-felled trees across railroad tracks halted rail traffic in most of Northwestern Oregon. Scores of persons throughout western Oregon were injured by flying debris.