The Storm King   

Some Historical Weather Events in the Pacific Northwest

compiled by

Wolf Read

Disclaimer: This is a personal website; therefore the opinions expressed herein are my own. Please do not assume that these opinions are those of the Office of the Washington State Climatologist (OWSC) or the Oregon Climate Service (OCS). Part of this research was kindly funded by the OCS. Many thanks go to the OWSC and the OCS for hosting these webpages.

Left: March 20, 1995, 15:00 ZULU. This bad boy compelled the National Weather Service, Portland, to post this warning at 10 PM PST March 19, 1995:

" ..HIGH WIND WARNING FOR THE COAST TONIGHT AND MONDAY...

"HIGH WIND WARNING IS NOW IN EFFECT FOR THE OREGON COAST. WINDS ALONG THE COAST WILL INCREASE TONIGHT AND BECOME 35 TO 45 MPH WITH GUSTS TO 75 MPH IN THE NORTH AND NEAR 90 MPH IN THE SOUTH AHEAD OF THE COLD FRONT. WINDS HAVE ALREADY GUSTED TO 40 MPH AT SEA LION CAVES...59 MPH AT GOLD BEACH...AND 94 MPH AT CAPE BLANCO."

The above storm is a very potent form of midlatitude cyclone. Many have struck the West Coast within the relatively short period of meteorological record. These systems can match a Category 3 hurricane in both minimum central pressures and sustained wind speeds. Such storms have a reach far beyond that of a typical hurricane: they can throw a cold rain into the Alaska Panhandle while at the same time pummel the San Francisco Bay Area with a warm, saturated gale. These tempests are killers, and can cause damage into the hundreds of millions, even billions. The focus of these web pages is on extratropical cyclones; though, as weather and climate contain varied and diverse phenomena, other types of events are also examined.

This website is here to dispel certain weather myths. There seems to be an idea that severe weather somehow doesn't strike the Pacific Northwest. This seems to be largely an eastern misconception. For example:

The March 12-13, 1993 "Storm of the Century" has been touted as the strongest extratropical storm to strike the United States in the 20th century. This appears wrong on a number of counts. The Storm Data publication of the National Climatic Data Center for the March 1993 event is particularly revealing in this regard.

A strong argument could be made that the great Columbus Day Storm of 1962 holds the "Storm of the Century" title, and for good reason. Sure, the 1993 storm produced more lowland snow; the Columbus Day Storm was a relatively warm early-Autumn system and snow just did not happen, save perhaps at the highest elevations. However, wind speeds are a different matter. Wind generally causes more damage than snow. Sure, when snow gets deep enough, it can become a problem for traffic flow and, perhaps more importantly, roof integrity. However, for much of the region that saw snow during the 1993 event, accumulation just did not reach epic proportions; accumulations of 6-10" were common.

Of the storms on record, only eastern hurricanes, possibly some wake low events, and some thundergusts match the strength of winds reported during the Columbus Day Storm. The supposed "Storm of the Century" just does not come close to the peak gusts officially recorded during the Columbus Day Storm. Generally, for March 1993 the peaks were in the range of 50 to 70 mph, with scattered readings around 75 to 85 mph. Most of the latter readings happened at coastal stations. For the Columbus Day Storm, official wind gusts reached 127 mph in the Willamette Valley. Many stations had gusts between 75 and 100 mph, and this includes quite a few locations that were inland (including Corvallis). So much for the storm of 1993!

One of the main foci of the case studies below is to demonstrate severe weather events in the Pacific Northwest.

 

Updates as of Nov 2008:

The Major Coastal Gale of December 1-3, 2007
Adjustments to "Modern" Storms 1995-2006

 

I am slowly adding to these pages and putting together new pages whenever I have the time. Just click on the links below to see official data, my own records and anecdotes, photos, and more, though each account may not have everything.

Subjects in Chronological Order Last Updated
The Storm King of January 9, 1880 January 13, 2004
The Classic Sou'wester of December 10, 1906 November 29, 2007
The January 29, 1921 Olympic Blowdown December 30, 2007
The Major Windstorm of October 21, 1934 February 24, 2003
The Classic Sou'wester of December 21, 1940 November 29, 2007
The Intense Spring Gale of April 23, 1943 April 30, 2004
The Major Sou'wester of December 4, 1945 April 16, 2004
The Double Windstorms of October 26-27, 1950 May 30, 2003
The Major Windstorm of December 4, 1951 March 10, 2004
The Classic Sou'wester of April 14, 1957 April 1, 2004
The Intense Cyclone of November 3, 1958 February 5, 2008
The SW OR Windstorm of February 24, 1961 May 30, 2003
The Mid-Spring Gale of April 27, 1962 December 2, 2003
The Columbus Day "Big Blow" of 1962 February 9, 2005
The Spring Gale of March 27, 1963: Storm King I July 30, 2004
The February 5, 1965 Gale: Storm King II July 30, 2004
The Strong October 2, 1967 Gale: Storm King III November 13, 2003
The Big Sou'wester of March 26, 1971 March 2, 2003
The Sudden Windstorm of March 1, 1974 February 25, 2003
The Intense Cyclone of November 9-10, 1975 March 25, 2004
The December 15, 1977 Puget Sound Cyclone February 26, 2004
The Kitsap Blowdown of February 13, 1979 February 20, 2004
The Double Windstorms of November 13-15, 1981 July 9, 2004
The Gale of December 21, 1982 September 6, 2004
The Thanksgiving Day Storm of 1983 May 8, 2003
The Surprise Gale of March 16, 1984 February 26, 2003
The Storm Train of January 1986 February 26, 2003
A Stormy Trio: January 6-9, 1990 February 6, 2008
The Northerly Gale of December 1990 February 16, 2006
The Inauguration Day Storm of 1993 March 5, 2003
The November 15, 1994 South Valley Windstorm May 8, 2003
The Major Windstorm of December 12, 1995 March 1, 2003
The Windstorm of February 6, 1999 March 2, 2003
The Major Windstorm of March 2-3, 1999 February 4, 2006
The Sou'wester of Janaury 15-16, 2000 March 2, 2003
The NW OR Squall Line of December 13, 2001 March 5, 2003
The February 7, 2002 South Valley Surprise December 5, 2008
The Storms of December 14-16, 2002 March 5, 2003
The December 16, 2002 South Valley Storm March 9, 2003
The December 27, 2002 Minor Windstorm March 19, 2004
The January 1, 2004 Cyclone: Snowstorm July 16, 2004
The January 29-30, 2004 Minor Windstorm March 19, 2004
The November 5, 2005 SW Washington Gale December 4, 2005
The Christmas Day Gale of 2005 February 18, 2006
The New Year's Windstorm of 2006 February 19, 2006
The February 4, 2006 Windstorm February 23, 2006
The Major Windstorm of December 14-15, 2006 September 23, 2007
Early Autumn Bluster: October 18, 2007 November 16, 2007
The Great Coastal Gale of December 1-3, 2007 November 23, 2008
   
Related Topics  
Pressure Gradients, Storm Tracks, Wind Speed March 1, 2003
Just How Strong Was That Windstorm? March 5, 2003
A Breakdown of Fatalaties in NW Windstorms February 5, 2008
   
Special Features  
Eastern Hurricanes Vs. PNW Cyclones August 23, 2004
Barograph Traces! March 1, 2003
In Memory of Trade-Wind Instruments September 21, 2003
Maximum Anemometers: Nor'Easter and Vigilant September 20, 2003
   
Windstorm Rankings (The Important Stuff!)  
Pacific Northwest's Strongest Storms 1950-2004 September 9, 2004
Adjustments to "Modern" Storms 1995-2006 November 29, 2008
Willamette Valley Strongest Storms 1950-2002 February 28, 2003
Seattle's Strongest Storms 1950-2002 February 24, 2003
Comparative Study of Windstorms by Track Class
Comparative Analysis of Four Class 1 Events September 21, 2007
Comparative Analysis of Four Class 2 Events September 21, 2007
Comparative Analysis of Four Class 3 Events February 24, 2006
Comparative Analysis of Four Class 4 Events September 23, 2007
Comparative Analysis of Four Class 5 Events September 24, 2007
Comparative Analysis of Four Class 6 Events September 24, 2007

Windstorm Events Roughly Broken Down by Track Type

Placement of some storms in certain categories is tentative, especially for those that haven't been given a webpage at this time. And, like most category systems, this one is far from perfect. Gray areas exist: The difference between the offshore-trending southwesters that skim ashore on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, and those that dive more directly into Washington (moving in from the SW instead of SSW, which puts such storms in the washington landfall category), are fairly subtle, and arguments can be made for moving one or the other subtype across the main categories.

Listed events without links are on the "to do" list.

Group 1: Offshore-Trending Sou'westers--Often the Major Events

 

The January 29, 1921 Olympic Blowdown

The Classic Sou'wester of December 21, 1940
The Major Sou'wester of December 4, 1945

The Double Windstorms of October 26-27, 1950

The Double Windstorms of December 21-22, 1955

The Spring Gale of April 14, 1957

The Columbus Day "Big Blow" of 1962

The Big Sou'wester of March 26, 1971

The Double Windstorms of November 13-15, 1981

The Strong Gale of December 21, 1982

The Surprise Gale of March 16, 1984

The Major Windstorm of December 12, 1995

The New Year's Day Storm of January 1, 1997

The Windstorm of January 16, 2000

The Storms of December 14-16, 2002

The New Year's Windstorm of 2006

Group 2: Oregon Landfalls--Some of Oregon's Strongest Storms

 

The Storm King of January 9, 1880

The Springtime Gale of March 27, 1963

The Gale of February 5, 1965: Storm King Redux

The October 2, 1967 Storm King "Jr."

The Sudden Windstorm of March 1, 1974

The Intense Cyclone of November 9-10, 1975

The Sudden Blast of January 10-11, 1988

The November 15, 1994 South Valley Windstorm

The February 7, 2002 South Valley Surprise

The December 16, 2002 South Valley Storm

The January 1, 2004 Cyclone: Snowstorm and Blizzard

Group 3: Washington Landfalls--Some of Washington's Strongest Storms

 

The Major Windstorm of October 21, 1934

The Intense Spring Gale of April 23, 1943

The Strong Storm of January 15, 1951

The Major Windstorm of December 4, 1951

The Intense Cyclone of November 3, 1958

The Windstorm of December 20, 1961

The Mid-Spring Gale of April 27, 1962

The Powerful Windstorm of January 19, 1964

On the Track of '58: The Windstorm of December 15, 1977

Kitsap Blowdown of February 13, 1979: So Long Hood Canal Bridge

The Thanksgiving Day Storm of 1983

The Gale of January 16-17, 1986

The Devastating Inaugural Day Storm of January 20, 1993

The Underachieving Cyclone of January 18, 1996

The Major Windstorm of March 2-3, 1999
The December 27, 2002 Minor Windstorm

The January 29-30, 2004 Minor Windstorm

The November 5, 2005 SW Washington Gale
The Christmas Day Gale of 2005
The February 4, 2006 Windstorm
The Strong December 14-15, 2006 Windstorm

Group 4: Other Wind Events--Includes Powerful Local Gales

 

The SW OR Windstorm of February 24, 1961

The Northerly Gale of December 1990

The NW OR Squall Line of December 13, 2001

 

"Hey, what about the rest of California?"

For all you San Francisco Bay Area storm watchers who think I'm focused too far north, I suggest taking a look at Jan Null's "Bay Area Storm Index" (BASI), if you haven't already seen it:

http://ggweather.com/basi_archive.htm

It's a very cool way of gauging the big baddies of the Bay Area.

"Okay, but what about SoCal?"

What--there's weather down there?

 

For their generosity with help and information, I thank the folk at the National Climatic Data Center, the Western Region Climate Center, the National Weather Service, especially those people working at the Eureka, Portland and Seattle offices, the National Data Buoy Center, the Oregon Climate Service, the University of Washington Department of Atmospheric Sciences, and the Oregon Historical Society. Without the efforts of the people working at these organizations, the information provided on these pages wouldn't have been available. Thank you doing for a great job!

Copyright Notice:

All text, graphics, photos and illustrations on the pages of this storm-related website are copyright 1981-2008 by Wolf Read, hereafter referred to as the author/illistrator, unless stated otherwise. This website is intended to help educate the public on dangerous Pacific Northwest storms, and, as it is also a research project in progress, to provide some groundwork for those interested in doing storm research for themselves. In keeping with that direction, and in the tradition of scientific information sharing, permission for reproducing material on this website will be granted, provided that these conditions are met: 1) credit is clearly given to the author/illustrator and this website in the reproduction, and 2) the author/illustrator is notified of how and where the material is being used (e-mail link below). Note that this permission can only be extended to material created by the author/illustrator.

Thanks for visiting this website!

Page Last Modified: December 5, 2008
Page Created: July 31, 2001

Project Started: October 17, 2000

(Please note that I'm very busy, and can take a fair amount of time to respond to e-mail.)