Monday, October 8, 2012

Learning from the Columbus Day Storm

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Columbus Day Storm, the Oregonian posted an excellent documentary video about it.  Check it out.  It's only five minutes and it has lots of great photos and eye witness accounts. 
Clark County and other areas along the I-5 corridor are vulnerable to windstorms like the Columbus Day Storm.  The coast gets damaging windstorms just about every year.  The inland areas are protected from those by the Coast Range mountains.  But every few years, the I-5 corridor has windstorms that come from very low pressure systems that travel south to north off the coast, resulting in strong winds from the north or south.  Since the winds run parallel to the Coast Range, it negates the protection those mountains normally provide.  Some of these storms have had as much energy as the Columbus Day Storm but fortunately have tracked farther off the coast.  The December 12, 1995 windstorm, for example, still managed to knock the power out to most of Clark County.  Had that or some of the other storms tracked a few miles more to the east, we may have had similar results to the Columbus Day Storm, but now in a region that is more densely populated, and more dependent on a steady flow of electricity than in 1962.

In other words, there's no reason why a storm like the Columbus Day Storm can't happen again and possibly with very serious results.  Are you ready?

Preparing for windstorms isn't much different than preparing for floods, earthquakes, or anything else.  The key thing to account for is that the power will be out and you may be stuck for a while due to debris cluttered roads.  Here are some specific things to keep in mind:
  • Have a plan for power outages at home and at work.  Keep the Clark Public Utilities Power Outage Line handy:  (360) 992-8000. 
  • Have safe lighting sources available.  Candles are a fire hazard and there are several good alternatives to them such as light sticks, headlamps, and battery powered lanterns.
  • Have a battery or hand crank radio available.
  • Be prepared to help elderly or disabled neighbors.
  • Have a plan to stay warm and prepare food.  Never bring propane, kerosene, or charcoal stoves or barbecues into unventilated areas.
  • Know how to manually open your electric garage door.

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