OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

OSU Press books show agony and ecstasy of Oregon weather

12/10/1999

CORVALLIS - The late Oregon Gov. Tom McCall, with tongue planted only somewhat firmly in-cheek, once urged Californians to stay away from Oregon, lest they rust from the seemingly never-ending rainfall.

Alas, it did not happen.

But Oregon's reputation for rain, and Oregonians' passion for talking about the weather, lives on. And now weather-watchers will have something new to talk about.

The Oregon State University Press has published two new books - one on Oregon weather, the other on climate - that provide a complete scientific, historical, and anecdotal history on the state's rain, snow, sun and wind. They were co-written by George Taylor, a faculty member in OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, who serves as the state climatologist.

"The Oregon Weather Book: A State of Extremes" provides a lively history of Oregon weather and serves as a guide to the forces that create and govern it, says Tom Booth, marketing manager for the OSU Press. It was written by Taylor and Bend author Raymond R. Hatton.

"This is just a great book for Oregon weather nuts, from die-hard weather watchers and professionals to ordinary Oregonians who look to the skies to make their recreation, travel or business plans," Booth said. "It will likely prove to be our all-time regional best-seller."

Booth said the companion book, "The Climate of Oregon: From Rain Forest to Desert," looks at long-term averages of weather conditions and climate elements, including precipitation, temperature, wind, humidity and clouds. Written by Taylor and Wilsonville author Chris Hannan, a research assistant in oceanic and atmospheric sciences, it includes chapters on large-scale climate change, including global warming, El Nino and La Nina.

"Weather is what happens outside your home in the morning," Booth said. "Climate is what you can expect to happen outside while you're paying your 30-year mortgage."

There is something for everyone in the books, including a list of Oregon records. They include:

  • The highest temperature ever recorded in Oregon came in 1898 - in two different locations. Both Pendleton (July 29) and Prineville (Aug. 10) logged temperatures of 119 degrees.

     

  • The coldest temperature: a brisk -54 degrees in 1933, on Feb. 9 in Ukiah and Feb. 10 in Seneca.

     

  • The most rainfall recorded in a single day came recently, during a Nov. 19, 1996, deluge that dropped 11.65 inches on Port Orford along the southern Oregon coast.

     

  • The one-day mark for snowfall, a whopping 39 inches, was recorded not on the slopes of the Cascades, but at Bonneville Dam, a mere 60 feet above sea level, on Jan. 9, 1980. It occurred during what likely was the greatest snowstorm in Oregon history.

     

  • The wettest year: 204.12 inches of rain fell in 1996 on Laurel Mountain; the driest year was in 1939, when the station at Warm Springs Reservoir recorded only 3.33 inches of precipitation.

     

  • The greatest annual snowfall: Crater Lake, in 1950, was buried under 903 inches of snow.

     

  • The highest wind speed ever recorded in Oregon: 131 miles per hour on Oct. 12, 1962, at Mt. Hebo, during the Columbus Day storm.

A number of city and regional records - both daily and yearly - also are included, but the books provide more than mere records. The authors have filled them with eyewitness accounts of persons who witnessed Oregon's extreme or rare weather events, historical photographs, tips for amateur forecasters, and a series of maps and tables.

There is the story of a 1906 snowstorm that blanketed the plateau region south of the Columbia River gorge with eight inches of brown snow, thought to be the result of a sand and dust storm colliding with a cold front.

A small but powerful tornado struck Lane County in 1951, lifting a 30-by-32-foot barn more than 300 feet into the air and sucking water from all the ditches, leaving them "as dry as dust."

The 1962 Columbus Day storm ravaged Oregon with winds of more than 100 miles an hour, killing 23 people and causing an estimated $170 million in damage. Some Oregonians were without power for two to three weeks.

The books not only describe the events, they explain how and why they happened. The Columbus Day storm, for example, was the "pinnacle of a type of weather event that is quite common in Oregon." "Each year, the state receives many of these `mid-latitude synoptic-scale cyclones' - in lay terms, big winter storms," the authors write. These storms share several characteristics: they form over the North Pacific, move generally in a west-to-east direction, produce strong winds and high precipitation - in fact, much of the yearly average - and they occur primarily during the cool season, from October through March. The Columbus Day storm had all of those characteristics, only magnified.

"Its central pressure was one of the lowest ever observed in this area," the authors note. "It reached its peak strength just as it reached the coast...it was a very broad storm, covering an unusually large area...it occurred very early in the season, before deciduous trees lost their leaves. This caused much greater damage than if the leaves had already fallen."

In other words, it could happen again.

The books are available in book stores and libraries, or by calling 1-800-426-3797.