One of the most recent disastrous storms is now a decade old: Great Coastal Gale of 2007.
Tillamook County is no stranger to pummeling bouts with Mother Nature: the Great Flood of 1996 and the famed Columbus Day Storm of the 1962 changed areas of the county forever – even the Tillamook River froze over in a 2009 weather system. Often, the conversation is steered back to 2007 – and for good reason. It was an unusually powerful event and is still on the tip of everyone’s tongue even a decade down the road.
“It was a serious event that allowed us to use it as an example for data collection with large scale storms and flooding,” Tim Josi, Tillamook County Commissioner, said. “We were able to use that flooding event that came during the big wind storm to use as justification for a number of flood mitigation projects, including the Southern Flow Corridor.”
The Great Coastal Gale of 2007, as it is officially referred as, was the physical confluence of Typhoons Mitag and Hagibis that formed over the central Pacific Ocean. Once the remnants of the typhoons were caught up into the Pineapple Express Jetstream pattern that brings unseasonably warm weather storms to the Oregon Coast during the winter months, it was setting the circumstance that would make the history books in Tillamook County.
Rivaled only by the Columbus Day Storm of 1962 and the Great Gale of 1880, the storm of 2007 brought record wind speeds and buckets of rainfall that not only lashed the coast with epic winds but a sizeable flooding event as well, the proverbial “perfect storm” – a series of three storms packed into one three-day event.
No epic windstorm of the area comes without an impressive amount of damage to go with it – and the Great Coastal Gale of 2007 was of no exception to this rule. Causing mudslides, washouts, sinkholes and erosion, the winds brought waves that pounded the shoreline with blow after blow, and sending long standing trees and their branches tumbling down to the ground.
With wind gusts measured in Bay City at 129 miles per hour the storm brought with it widespread damage in the form of fallen trees and damaged infrastructure as the winds whipped through the area, in the community of Holy Cross, Wash., they measured gusts up to 137 miles per hour.
Separated into three smaller storms that hit the Pineapple Express conveyor the winds came in from Dec. 1 to Dec. 3, 2007 – with all three events classified as having hurricane force winds.
“I know we didn’t send anyone out in the storm until it subsided and then we sent people out to check on the roads and forest and report back any damage,” Barbara Moore, Assistant District Forester, Oregon Department of Forestry, said. “It took a while to access the whole district because roads were blocked by fallen trees and there was a limited amount of equipment available to work clearing the roads.”
In addition to strong hurricane force winds, the Great Coastal Gale of 2007 also brought record-setting amounts of rainfall along with it, one of the days during the storm measured nearly 12 inches at Lee’s Camp which gave rise to swollen rivers throughout the area. But it wasn’t just the rain that was a concern; it was the overall warmth of the storm itself.
Less than a week before the storm began, the Coast Range that surrounds the Tillamook valley were white-capped in layers of seasonal snowfall. This at the time was nothing unusual for late November and early December, however, when the warm south winds of the Pineapple Express brought the Gale to our coastline, everything seasonally expected went right out the window.
“The storm came in and melted the snow that was on the mountains,” Josi said. “That, combined with the already impressive amount of rainfall, and the wind of course, created a flood that nearly rivaled the trend-setting 1996 event.”
The insult was on the heels of injury as the flood washed away everything not secured down, and as it happened during the windstorm, it took the local emergency response longer to get to certain areas due to seemingly endless amounts of fallen trees over the roadways.
As a result of the storm, a number of lessons were learned, and despite the winds ceasing their relentless onslaught, the large electrical transmission wires that fed from the Bonneville Power Administration were damaged, resulting in some areas within the county to be without power for upward of six days.
“What we learned from the ‘07 storm is that we cannot prevent floods from happening,” Josi said. “But we have done a lot since then to reduce flooding in the area, we worked with the US Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a feasibility study which was to be used in the construction of the newly completed Southern Flow Corridor project.”
According to Josi, it was that project that eventually got Sen. Betsy Johnson on board to help initiate an Oregon Solution Project that served to address flooding in a comprehensive manner.
The product of those efforts has come in the form of the Southern Flow Corridor, which essentially serves to not only act as a rearing environment for salmon and other sensitive watershed species, but also act as a more effective drain system to get the floodwaters out to the bay faster than before.
“We can’t eliminate flooding,” Josi said. “But our efforts have placed most major floods into a nuisance category, unfortunately however there will always be major floods that cause damage.”