Sunday’s Windstorm Wrap Up

When I visit schools and other organizations I often talk about how good our forecasting is getting nowadays compared to 25 years ago when I started.  I have sometimes said “we’ll probably never be surprised by a major windstorm again“.  We came close both in October and yesterday.  Not a whole lot of warning.

We sure didn’t see a major regionwide windstorm this year, like 1962, 1981, & 1995.  But we have seen 3 very impressive windstorms in the Portland metro area.  Each of those put at least 70,000 PGE customers out of power at one time.

It’s very interesting to note that all 3 low pressure center paths were similar; steeply south-southwest to north-northeast.  That’s different from more of a westerly angle like WSW to ENE. That is excellent for getting a major windstorm here.  This one bottomed out only just below 1000 millibars!  Hard to believe we saw widespread gusts 45-60mph with that isn’t it? The low pressure center made landfall right around Hoquiam. The December storm bottomed out around 973mb, and the October storm was around 980 mb.

Models had trouble with all 3 storms this year, and two of those storms occurred with only about 24 hours of warning (this one and October).

Here are the final peak gust numbers in our area:




For Salem, Hillsboro, & Battle Ground this was the strongest storm of the season…stronger than December.  The strong wind gusts were more evenly spread around the region.   Look how the Oregon Coast saw strong wind this time as well.



In December Portland saw higher gusts than many coastal locations, which was strange.

The problem this time around with the forecast was that models were having real trouble deciding where a wave along our very wet frontal boundary would track.  Look at the surface map for Sunday 5pm from the NAM-MM5 and WRF-GFS initialization.  Looks like a low pressure center around 996-1000mb just moved inland and is centered near Olympia.  This is what actually occurred.

nam_Sun5pm_initialization wrf_Sunday5pm_initialization

Now take a look at the forecast for this time from FRIDAY MORNING:

nam_Sun5pm_48hrfcst wrf_Sunday5pm_48hrfcst

At 48 hours away neither is close to reality.  NAM has a low along the frontal boundary in eastern Oregon and the WRF-GFS is spinning something around off the southern Oregon Coast.  These are the last maps I saw Friday evening before the 10pm show.

Let’s move to 36 hours out.  Forecast for the same time from SATURDAY MORNING’S RUNS:

nam_Sun5pm_36hrfcst wrf_Sunday5pm_36hrfcst

Now it’s very interesting and both models agree…some sort of gusty wind event is on tap for late Sunday evening.  The low is supposed to still be off Newport at this time.

Jump ahead to SATURDAY EVENING’S FORECAST…just 24 hours away from our storm:

nam_Sun5pm_24hrfcst wrf_Sunday5pm_24hrfcst

Both are faster, the GFS is getting quite close to reality.  At this point it’s looking like a minor windstorm is on the way

Jump to SUNDAY MORNING’S FORECAST, the last before the event:

nam_Sun5pm_12hrfcst wrf_Sunday5pm_12hrfcst

Timing has speeded up again!  NAM is very strong and just about right on for placement.  The GFS ended up being too fast.  They both show a perfect setup for strong wind.

So I’d say models latched on around 24-36 hours out and once they did the surface low pressure intensity forecast was close to reality from that point onward.  The larger scale models (GFS/ECMWF/NAM etc…) were similar to these.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

33 Responses to Sunday’s Windstorm Wrap Up

  1. Jason Hougak says:

    And what’s this lowering snow levels down to 3,500 feet for spring break. Hey at least if it’s stop being sunny for spring break we can hit up Timberline for sum fresh snow.

  2. schmit44 says:

    When will Portland Airport reach 70° for the first time this spring?
    The GFS is hinting that the final week of March it could finally happen.

    6 of the past 9 years we have had to wait till April to get that first warm day. The average first-70 date the past 34 years is March 31st. The past 9 years we have seen our first 60 degree day later than normal. Of course the warmth so far this year produced a very early first 60 on Jan 18th breaking that streak of late first occurrences. PDX has recorded 69 degrees 4 times already this March. Here is a chart showing those spring occurrences the past 34 years.

  3. Well I didn’t feel sufficiently warned. Even Sunday morning you said it was a minor wind storm. It swept all the furniture and plants off our front porch. Oh my poor new babies. I would have moved them if you had said 60 mile gusts as opposed to 45 mile gusts.

    I was counting on you to tell me what to expect. Boo. Hiss.

    And we lost power for almost 12 hours, which is by far the worst power outage we have experienced in our 20 years in Portland.

    • WEATHERDAN says:

      It is virtually impossible to be that precise until maybe an hour or two before a storm hits due to the track it takes and the strengths of the low. Mark did a very good job of forecasting the storm. A movement of just a few miles in the track and a difference of just a few millibars in the strength can make all the difference. The next time a forecast calls for winds of 45 MPH move the plants just to be safe. Peace.

    • The forecast did not lead me to expect this storm would be so much worse than any storm this year. it was worse than any I can remember except maybe one in the late 90’s. This really felt like the hurricanes I remember from the east coast.

      It was definitely our worst windstorm of the year. Part of that may be that it was from a different direction than our wind usually comes from…we get a lot of gorge wind where we are and this was not a gorge wind.

  4. schmit44 says:

    3/17/2015 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:67 at MERLIN SEED ORCH(1144 ft)
    Low: 56 at HEPP(311 ft)

    High:33 at Rim(7050 ft)
    Low: 23 at DIMLKE (4726 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 28 degrees
    Hayes Hill (US 1 (65/37 ) (1640 ft )

    Heaviest Rainfall:
    1.14″ at SOUTH FORK(2257ft)
    0.34″ at EW3918 Newport(141ft)
    0.32″ at EW4395 Milton Fr(3455ft)
    0.32″ at POINT PROM II(6607ft)

  5. Purplehaze says:

    Same here. We just lost power here in Aumsville for a half hour the entire town was out cold. I took a short walk and the main traffic light was on emergency mode instead of its usual yellow. Never seen traffic lights like that before.

    We live in a nicer mobile home park at the end of town where usually the only exciting thing that happens is everybody coming home from work at once and you can see all the head lamps coming in when it’s winter.

    Looks like we had our overdue excitement! 🙂

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      Did you move out of Silverton and over to Aumsville recently?

    • Lee says:

      I see a few lost power, Ever sense we purchased a generator we only needed it one time this year.

      So buy a generator lol you will never have another outage 😉

      • ockmanbrandon says:

        Wednesday March 18TH 2015.
        Dear Mark Nelson.
        When I Was on the way home sunday traffic light’s where moving back and forth also power lines where moving to.
        I Stayed in doors during storm events.
        Im ready for the next one and also the spring weather to.
        From Brandon bockman

  6. …potential aurora borealis tonight and not a word here?….shame…. 🙂 (this website is loading slowly right now…)

    • Purplehaze says:

      The site took a little bit longer to load though I have a fast computer. I feel sorry for anybody stuck with an old junker that can’t do much online if it’s their only computer.

    • David B. says:

      Clouds interfered with that up this way. Did anyone see anything?

    • W7ENK says:

      Activity abruptly died just as soon as the auroral oval swung down over Oregon and the clouds began to break up. I know several people who ventured out to the East side only to find scattered clouds, stars and much disappointment. Just a faint glow visible to the North, but nothing spectacular, apparently not even discernible to the naked eye.


  7. Quite surprising for me to read all about the storm damage. Up in my area, we missed most of the wind, although we did get 0.90 inches of rain.

  8. BoringOregon says:

    So here we go again??

  9. Tyler Mode in Battle Ground says:

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day! These photos are from my trip to Ireland a couple years ago:

    • catalin stoica says:

      Thanks for sharing! Great pictures!

    • SE_PDX_Dave says:

      I must have gone on the exact same trip you did. 🙂

      Wasn’t that castle beautiful? Did you get any pictures of the amazing garden as well? Cliffs of Moher were pretty awesome as well!

      Awesome pictures, Tyler. Always enjoy.

      • Tyler Mode in Battle Ground says:

        It was the first castle I stopped at. Amazing to see something built in 900!

        Some pics of the garden, but not a lot. The cliffs were aweso
        me and I really enjoyed Connemara

  10. ockmanbrandon says:

    Hi Mark Nelson.
    That Wicked windstorm was strong in the areas.
    I Took video pictures if the windspeed .
    My Power went out.
    We get wicked windstorm events every fall winter to months like Late September October November December January February March also april to.
    when we get mild falls and winter they happen to.
    Also I would like to know what where the windstorm speeds in the fall of 2004?
    I’m Ready for the spring time weather to tomorrow.
    I Would like to know when is there going to be anther wind event like the end of the month?
    Also summer also I cant wait for the nice warmer weather.
    Are we going to get any heat waves this summer from last year?
    Summer last year was the hottest one.

  11. Shawn Weagle - Garden Home / SW Portland says:

    Excellent write up, Mark! This system was barely a glimmer in the ECMWF’s eye when I was working my last midnight shift Tuesday night. That was the first model I could recall that had anything similar to what occurred, with a consolidated low… but tracking well offshore of what actually occurred. I thought it was an outlier, but then again, the MJO and its “momentum” tend to push the baroclinic zone (and storm track) closer to the coast than early model runs. Given the ECMWF’s losing streak to the GFS since the upgrade, I sort of disregarded it. Oops! Lesson learned 🙂

  12. pappoose in scappoose says:

    I enjoyed it, especially fun trying to stay in a lane while driving too fast!

    • W7ENK says:

      Air speed or ground speed? Crossing the 405 Bridge during the height of the winds (~2:30p), our speedometer said we were going 50 mph, but the headwind was probably closer to 100 mph.

  13. Tyler Mode in Battle Ground says:

    I enjoyed it minus the roof damage to my house, and the siding damage at my dad’s, and oh ya, my sister’s fence blowing down!

    • W7ENK says:

      Hey, at least you didn’t end up with this…

    • Tyler Mode in Battle Ground says:

      Wow that’s insane! It’s all about perspective!

      I just looked today, my roof shingles that blew off scratch the side and top of my truck pretty badly too…but again, minimal compared to that…and I’ll take property damage any day over someone getting hurt!

    • W7ENK says:

      Yeah, she was incredibly lucky. If this had happened at 5am, she’d’ve likely been killed. It landed square on her bed, punctured the mattress and jammed the bed frame through the floorboards.

  14. W7ENK says:

    I, for one, enjoyed it! It was an exciting surprise. It was nice and relaxing… well, until the neighbor’s tree fell through her house. 😦

  15. schmit44 says:

    3/16/2015 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:71 at AGNESS2( 247 ft)
    Low: 52 at Rye Valley(I-84(2230 ft) & LAKE OWHEE AND O(2400 ft)

    High:35 at Rim(7050 ft)
    Low: 21 at Timberline Lodge (7001 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 32 degrees
    DW6016 Milwaukie (67/35 ) (167 ft )
    EW6045 Prinevill (65/33) (2884 ft)

  16. 4 windstorms if you include the Veteran’s Day east windstorm (for some of us)

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