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Tornadoes and Waterspouts

The week of May 4 - May 10 is Severe Weather Awareness Week in the Pacific Northwest, including the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

This is an excellent time for all individuals, families, businesses, schools, radio and television stations to review their spring and summer storm preparedness plans. It is especially important for new arrivals to the Pacific Northwest to become familiar with NOAA's National Weather Service Watch and Warning definitions, and their safety procedures.

Tornadoes near Creston, 2009

Each day, a new topic will be discussed, along with new informational links:
Intro May 5 May 6 May 7 May 8 May 9 May 10


Tornadoes occur in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho every year. Oregon and Washington average 2 to 3 per year while Idaho averages 3 to 4. Some years are relatively active like 1997, when Washington had a record fourteen tornadoes, while Idaho had nine tornadoes in 2004. Some of the largest single day outbreaks include five tornadoes in the Snake River Plain on February 14, 2000 and six tornadoes on a single in October 2006 in the Magic Valley of Idaho.

Fortunately, most tornadoes in the Pacific Northwest are less intense than those east of the Rockies and last only a few minutes. Not well known, Washington led the nation in tornado deaths in 1972. An F3 tornado touched down in Vancouver, Washington on April 5, plowing through a grocery store, a blowing center and a school killing six and injuring several hundred.

The Pacific Northwest averages seven tornadoes during the year. July and August are the most common months to see a tornado although they have been reported in almost every month of the year. The majority of tornadoes occur between 1 pm and 9 pm. The usual strength is rated between an EF0 and EF2 - or better described as weak to strong with wind speeds ranging from 40 mph to 157 mph.

Tornadoes and waterspouts in Oregon, Washington and Idaho can occur in any month of the year but most develop in our transition seasons - spring and fall. Nearly all occur during the heat of the day between 1 pm and 7 pm.

When conditions for tornadoes become favorable, the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center (NWS SPC) issues a Tornado Watch covering a large area for the next few hours. This is when you need to review what you would do in case severe weather threatens. It may be too late to develop a plan after a warning goes into effect. Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or your local broadcast media or portable phone devices for the latest updates.

When tornadoes are imminent, detected by Doppler Weather Radar or view by trained spotters, the local National Weather Service office will issue a Tornado warning.

If the tornado warning is for your area, remember the following safety tips:

In Homes or Small Buildings:    go to the basement (if available) or to an interior room on the lowest floor such as a closet or bathroom. Upper floors are unsafe. If there is now time to descend - go to a closet, a small room with strong walls, or an inside hallway. Wrap yourself in overcoats or blankets to protect yourself from flying debris.

In schools, hospitals, businesses or shopping centers:   go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor. Stay away from glass enclosed places or areas with wide span roofs such as auditoriums and warehouses. Crouch down and cover your head. Centrally located stairwells are also good shelter.

In high rise buildings:   go to interior small rooms or halls. Stay away from exterior walls or areas containing glass.

If caught outdoors:   seek shelter immediately in a building if possible. If you cannot quickly get to a building and are close to a vehicle, get in immediately, buckle your seatbelt and try to drive to the nearest shelter. If flying debris hits your vehicle while you are driving, pull over and park. Do not park the underneath bridges or over passes. As a last resort, stay in the car with your seatbelt buckled and place your head down below the level of the windows - covering your head if possible. If no vehicle or shelter is available find the lowest possible location and lie flat covering your head.

If boating:   get to land immediately and seek shelter. Remember, lightning is also an extreme danger when on water.

Here are a few tips to help you. Tornado survivors often report hearing loud roaring sounds with tornadoes. If you get golf ball sized hail or larger - you are near the most dangerous part of the storm that could be followed by a tornado. If you see rotating debris evening without the existence of a funnel cloud - it could mean a dangerous tornado is developing.

Regardless, the key to tornado survival is to be prepared and take immediate action when a warning is issued or when you spot a tornado or waterspout. The actions you take during a tornado incident may save your life and the lives of your family.

This week is Severe Weather Awareness Week in the Pacific Northwest. Now is the time to get prepared for thunderstorms and wildfires. Public information statements will be issued throughout the week, providing safety information and help so you may know how to respond when severe weather threatens.

    Additional Links of Interest...

  1. Enhanced Fujita Scale of Tornado strength
  2. The Aumsville, OR EF-2 tornado
  3. EF-1 Vancouver, WA Tornado January 10, 2008
  4. F3 Tornado Strikes Portland/Vancouver on April 5, 1972
  5. Historic Tornadoes of Oregon
  6. Tornadoes of Eastern Washington
  7. Tornadoes of Eastern Idaho
  8. Severe Emergency Plan for Inland Pacific NW Schools
  9. Preparedness for Tornadoes
  10. Each local office may have photographs online ( see office links below )

Remember, in times of severe weather, you can get all these vital NOAA/National Weather Service messages via NOAA Weather Radio, your favorite local media, or through NOAA's National Weather Service websites.

For questions about local Severe Weather Preparedness, contact your local NOAA National Weather Service Office:

local office contact by email contact by phone
Medford Ryan Sandler 541-773-1067
Seattle Ted Buehner 206-526-6087
Spokane Andrew Brown 509-244-6395
Pendleton Dennis Hull 541-276-4493
Portland Tyree Wilde 503-261-9246
Boise Jay Breidenbach 208-334-9861
Pocatello Vern Preston 208-233-0834
Missoula Marty Whitmore 406-329-4840

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5241 NE 122nd Avenue
Portland, OR 97230-1089

Tel: (503) 261-9246

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