The expression is “come rain or come shine.” We definitely prefer the latter.
We all know that severe storms pose a significant risk to our lives and property. Tumultuous conditions can also disrupt essential regional systems, including public utilities, telecommunications, and transportation routes. These storms can produce rain, ice, snow, cold temperatures, and wind, which can all have a destructive impact on trees, power lines, homes, and utility services.
Nature, at its most destructive, has occurred throughout the northwestern part of our state throughout history.
Each year, our state’s Department of Transportation spends about $16 million per year on snow and ice removal from the state highway system by utilizing snow plows, sanding, and anti-icing chemicals. ODOT highway maintenance crews are always prepared for severe winter conditions by November 1st of each year.
Though we usually have a holly and jolly winter season locally, there have been times when the weather with detrimental to our festive spirit. Here are the worst storms in our city’s history:
The Great Flood Of 1862
A dry decade was followed by a 43-day storm that battered the West Coast. Floods surged throughout the west coast. In our state, two and a half weeks of solid rain caused some of the worst floodings in Oregon history. Deluges covered huge portions of the lower Willamette Valley. The flood destroyed homes in Oregon City, forcing many settlers to flee.
Snow storms battered the higher elevations of the state, followed by warm, intense storms that melted the high snow load. Properties that were damaged included mills, towns, fences, houses, mills, and domestic animals. Overall, the storm caused (with inflation) $3.1 billion in damages.
The Storm King Of 1880
This intense extratropical cyclone had a negative impact on the Northwestern part of the state. Winds peaked at least 80 mph in Portlands. Gusts were strong and frequent, resulting in falling signs, chimneys, shutters, and buildings. Half the local shade trees were felled.
Two people were killed, and several others were injured by the breeze. Most notably: the storm blew a three-masted schooner onto the beach at Coos Bay, severing it in two. Overall, the unrelenting gales lasted for about five hours, raising tides an estimated seven feet.
1894 Portland Flood
Willamette reached its highest point on record during this specific flood.
Persistent summer downpours were followed by a spring snow runoff that pushed the river to 33 feet over the summer. Our downtown was buried beneath water. Commercial business was kept alive with raised wooden walkways and boats. Overall, more than 100 miles of train tracks were washed away, effectively stopping rail services in our state.
Sewage floated freely on the surface of the water, creating an unbearable odor intermingled with the smells of dead and rotting fish. As a result, the disaster led Portland to undertake serious flood-control measures.
The 1903 Heppner Flood
After severe rainstorms, a flash flood carried away a third of Morrow County town. An estimated 247 people perished in the rush of water. Overall, the storm destroyed a large portion of Heppner. It remains the deadliest natural disaster in our state and the second deadliest flash flood in our country. Overall, adjusted to inflation, the flood caused an estimated $18.1 million in damages.
It was such a disturbing scene that the Oregonian called Heppner “a city of the dead.” Bodies were excavated as much as 15 miles from the scene of the initial flood. At its peak, over 36,000 cubic feet per second of water raced down Will Creek, which is more than the average flow of the Willamette River.
Two residents attempted to warn nearby Lexington, but the flood washed through the city before they arrived, destroying several buildings. Raw sewage contaminated wells in nearby areas, resulting in 18 people eventually succumbing to typhoid fever.
Nasty weather sent from Alaska remained in our area for several days, plunging temperatures as low as eight degrees and bringing with it five-foot-high snow drifts. Five accidents occurred across Interstate 5 that completely closed the highway between Salem and Albany. Near Woodburn, an overturned truck spilled an estimated 1,000+ gallons of oil. Specifically, in Salem, hospitals reported 25 snow-related injuries alone.
The Oregon Department of Transportation estimated $25,000 in additional costs necessary for wages and supplies to counteract the storm’s effects. The South Yamhill River completely froze over; approximately 80% of McMinnville customers went without power.
Christmas 2003-January 14, 2004
The period marked the coldest winter in over a decade. Snowstorms that transpire through the northwest part of our state took a turn for the worst, converting into an ice storm at the New Year. Climatologists called it the worst storm to strike the west side of the state in decades.
Thousands of passengers were stranded for several days at the Portland International Airport. The runway conditions were amongst the worst recorded in history; 470 flights were canceled due to the runways completely encased in ice. An estimated 58,000 Oregonians were without power.
A sizable breakage occurred at the water lines running through Willamette. The area lost about 200 gallons a minute until they isolated the leak and got it fixed. The local water intake pump was also knocked out for 12 hours.
Want to learn more about Oregon? Check out these “Fun Facts About Portland“.