Great Gale of 1880
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Newspaper Reports and Anecdotes
On January 19, 1880, a letter to The Daily Oregonian from an Astoria resident reads,
- From the graphic, and, in some cases, the heart-rending accounts published in the Oregonian descriptive of the disasters resulting from the late severe windstorms in other portions of the state and the neighboring territory, it would appear that our town and county suffered less injury than almost any other.
Parts of the lower Columbia seem to have experienced a blizzard, as related from Westport:
- On the 9th at 2 o-clock P.M., a storm of snow and wind set in and continued for two hours with all the fury of a hurricane.
An article printed on January 12, 1880 noted,
- The storm near the mouth of the Columbia seems to have been entirely distinct from the one which swept through the Willamette Valley, and scarcely as severe or prolonged. The wind was from the northwest, and did not commence to blow violently until nearly 2 o'clock Friday afternoon.
- The wind changed suddenly to the west, and while the trees were heavily laden with snow, struck the forest with terrific effect.
Likely, all these locations were north of the storm’s center. A west and northwest wind is a particular giveaway. The mention of strong winds at Westport and Fort Clatsop is also an interesting feature, and may have been the result of a strong bent-back occlusion.
In contrast to the north coast, a letter from Newport, Oregon printed in the Oregonian on January 17, 1880 reported
- We have just experienced one of the severest gales; nothing like it has occurred since the settlement of the bay. It was southeast, lasted about five hours, and was terrible in force… The tide rose seven feet higher than was ever known; nearly all the old wharves are taken away.
There was no snowfall on the coastal hills around Newport, but "several miles from here it is five inches, and gradually deepens as you go east. Said to be 18 inches deep at Siletz, Oregon." Further south, it was reported on January 19 that Gardiner was struck with a "perfect gale" that threw large breakers ashore and shoved water into a warehouse, threatening livestock. "The rain came down in torrents," and the Umpqua River and Smith River flooded high, adding to the wet mess. "The storm raged with great violence at Coos Bay." The three-masted schooner Emma Utter dragged anchor and was smashed ashore. Owing to the vivid descriptions of the storm’s strength, these locations were likely south of the cyclone’s center. The southeast wind at Newport is particularly informative in this regard.
The powerful gale struck much of the Willamette Valley in the mid to late morning. For example, "the heaviest windstorm ever known in these parts" struck Monmouth, in Polk County, at about 11 AM. The strong winds also struck the city of Corvallis at 11 AM, with the gale lasting until about 3 PM, and started around 9 AM in Blodgett in the coast range to the west. In Portland, the powerful wind began at 11 AM, and lasted until about 2:30 PM. This contrasts sharply against the wind arrival times for places along the Lower Columbia, which as noted above, were around 2 PM, about the time that the winds had abated in the Willamette Valley. The timing difference is an important part of this storm’s interpretation.
If Pacific Northwest cyclones competed for "strongest storm on record," the final round would probably be between the windstorm of January 9, 1880, and the infamous Columbus Day Storm of 1962. Due to limited wind data in 1880, this assessment is based primarily on anecdotal evidence presented in newspapers, such as the Daily Oregonian, and from weather observations that could be had from carefully monitored stations like those of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. If the articles are taken at face value, then it seems that damage in 1880, at least to timberland and orchard trees, was comparable to the Columbus Day Storm.
- Not even among the traditions of the native Indian inhabitants of the country is there record of a tempest so wild and furious in its aspect or so disastrous and terrible in its results. —From “The Storm King,” The Daily Oregonian, January 10, 1880.
- Wolf Read (January 13, 2004). "The January 9, 1880 "Storm King"". Retrieved 2007-01-13.
- Burt, Christopher C. (2004), Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book, W.W. Norton & Co., p. 235, ISBN 0-393-32658-6