Coastal residents are chatty this time of year when the winds start to blow and the rains fall in waves. They start to recall when the last storm hit and compare precipitation and sneaker waves. Stories come rolling out and a sense of place arises. Clatsop and nearby counties have weathered these events and come out on the other side with tales to tell.
In one event, a 75- mile an hour wind hit the Oregon coast on February 9, 1948. It was troublesome for residents of Clatsop county on land, but especially tragic for boaters out during the storm. According to the Astorian Evening Budget newspaper, two o’clock brought windy weather, clocking winds at 30 mph. By 5:00pm the winds accelerated to 54 mph and reached 75 mph by evening. The Fearless fishing boat was on a trip off Tillamook Rock that evening and took a hard hit. The conversation between the men aboard and the USCG Cutter Balsam that eventually helped her ashore was recorded and published in the paper. “It looks like a shower bath coming into our engine room,” the captain reported at one point to illustrate their dire straits, but he promised, “I’m not going to start swimming until I have to.” Another boat, a skiff of a pilot schooner capsized with three men aboard. “There’s a big one,” Peter A. Anderson was remembered as noting before the boat flipped and he was drowned before rescue could arrive.
The Big Blow hit Oregon hard in the fall of 1962. According to the Oregon Encyclopedia, winds damaged buildings and powerlines, causing outages for weeks in some cases. The day began with a weather report of, “Cloudy with showers,” wrote Ellis Lucia in The Big Blow. According to the author, the combination of the tail of Typhoon Freda and a cold stream hitting a warm moist current wreaked havoc on the states of California, Washington, and especially Oregon. A Red Cross survey notes that 84 Oregon homes were completely destroyed and over 50,000 others were damaged in the storm. The winds also took a toll on forests in the Pacific Northwest as well, taking down as many trees as the Tillamook fire of 1933. One arboreal casualty close to home was the The Clatsop Fir. Lucia explains that it was the world’s largest fir and an elderly specimen. Approximately 1,000 years old, the tree toppled a few weeks after the Columbus Day event in a windstorm, it’s root structure weakened in the Big Blow.
Most deliberated is the ‘Great Coastal Gale’ of 2007. According to the NOAA National Data Buoy Center, this series of winter storms was the first to ever precipitate a hurricane warning on the Oregon coast. Winds and snow followed by six long hours of rain and warmer weather culminated in flooded streets and stranding. Thirty hours of hurricane force gusts later, the storms were over, but the troubles were not. Vernonia was completely cut off due to blocked roads and downed lines and the whole county was at a standstill. Police officers and other officials in town worked 12 hour shifts to meet the needs of community members. From this storm, officials have added to their preparation tool belt and through all the gales and gusts, Oregon residents have been reminded the importance of being ready for anything.
The Clatsop County Emergency Management Division (EMD) has been here through it all. This department is tasked with planning for emergencies and organizing efforts when an event occurs. Outreach and education are also a part of the responsibilities of Tiffany Brown, Emergency Services Manager and Vincent Aarts, Emergency Management Coordinator.
The division has an Emergency Operations Center set up at Camp Rilea in preparation for a severe weather event. Here they can coordinate efforts for rescue and support for the county, but Vincent Aarps says county residents should start to prepare themselves as well. “The more ready we are, the more able we are to help each other,” he explains, which in turn allows the emergency systems to focus on cases where they are needed the most.
Vincent says having a two week supply food and water is a great start for families when preparing. Two weeks may sound daunting, but it is easier than you think, Vincent explains. Most people have some camping or outdoor gear in their homes, it is just a matter of cataloging and bringing materials together, possibly by using an old backpack or picking up a few essentials from a secondhand store. Water is an obvious necessity in an emergency, but for a family of five, the standard of five gallons a day for two weeks is cumbersome. Instead, Vincent recommends storing a device to filter water if you don’t have the space. Other essentials include warm waterproof clothing, emergency blankets, flashlights and whistles. Being prepared physically helps residents to feel mentally prepared. “It takes a lot of stress off an uncomfortable situation,” Vincent says.
With what Vincent calls, “An extraordinary natural disaster profile,” in Clatsop County, it is best to be prepared. The Emergency Management Division presents information and risk factors to local groups to help residents know what steps to take in an emergency. Contact ClatsopEMD@co.clatsop.or.us with requests.