What Happened to “The Coho Wind”?

December 12, 2017

We’re going through what will likely end up as the strongest east wind event of the cold season…so let’s take a look back.  Do you remember the one winter when that wind had a name?

It was 20 years ago this month…

In 1997 the Oregon Chapter of the American Meteorological Society undertook an ambitious attempt to give the seasonal wind a name.  Why not? The dry east wind is called a “Santa Ana” in southern California.  Reno has the “Washoe Zephyr”.  Northern California gets a “Diablo” wind.  The Great Plains have a “Chinook” (although originally assigned to our warming southwest wind here).  But all through written history in our area the easterly winter wind has always just been referred to as “The East Wind”.  Local Native American tribes just called it an east wind in their distinct language.  And of course they were likely smarter than us, not camping near the west end of the Gorge in the winter.

A group of us figured it deserved a special name and ran a contest through the Autumn of 1997 to find a new name.  It was a huge collaborative endeavor with all local radio and TV stations getting involved.  Dozens of local and Pacific Northwest newspapers ran the contest or at least ran stories about it.  It was even mentioned by The Weather Channel.  You couldn’t avoid hearing about it at the time.

The volume of entries was far greater than expected; nearly 7,000! Pat & Sara Timm opened/sorted compiled the entries into a database.  Some were duplicates and the final 54 page listing contained 2,424 unique names.  We’re talking some really good names, but some real strange one too.  “Big Bad Momma”, “A Real Nipple Popper”, and “Devastating Doozy” come to mind as I peruse the book of names I still have in my file cabinet.

  • coho-alaska-salmon

Finally a group of maybe 10 AMS members got together and voted on the top 3, then a final one.  COHO was picked for a couple of reasons:  1) it’s the opposite of a CHINOOK wind (easterly vs. westerly), and 2) the COHO is known as a fierce and tough fish.  There may be other reasons but that was 20 years, 2 jobs, and 2 kids back in time for me.

For that first winter all of us regularly used the name and all seemed okay, but then the name fell out of use somewhat quickly.  As I recall by the following winter (1998-1999) the name was barely used.  I know I didn’t use it the 2nd or 3rd winter.  Why?  I found the people most affected by the wind seemed to hate it most and the people not affected much at all thought it was just fine.  As I recall (again, 20 years ago), I thought if people hate it and want to keep the current “name”, why should I be pushing it on them?  The Portland NWS and all other media stopped using the name as well.  It more  or less went into the history books.  Pat Timm used the name regularly in his weather column (The Columbian) for many years.  I just asked him about it yesterday, he said “I think it was a great name for a number of reasons…Just not enough support I think by the media to promote it. I think with social media now days and the Weather Channel naming almost every storm etc it would make it.”  Pat also says he would be interested in reigniting the name with a new generation of weather watchers.

In the past 24 hours I got an earful on a local (Corbett) FB group when I asked about the naming 20 years ago:  Jeanette- I never accepted Coho, it just was too polished or almost phony sounding. The wind is cold, harsh, and destructive and the only words that seem right are “The East Wind” .  Patrick– Those of us who live in the heart of it know it as The East Wind, a proper noun; not a common noun with a directional modifier.  Jeanie- They tried to force that name on us when we were so proud to live in “Corbett, Corbett home of the East Wind” (a song taught to all local school kids) . The music teacher had made a song about it which the grade school kids had performed many times. There were even T shirts printed with the East Wind blowing.  Catherine- One of the main reasons was that it was folks who didn’t live here or had ever experienced the East Wind who were trying to change the name!!  I think the best was from long-time resident Nev Scott.  She told me 15 years ago “It has always been The East Wind and always will be.  That’s it”  She wasn’t the type of person I wanted to argue with either!

Looking back 20 years, I think the problem may be that you can’t just force a new name onto an existing weather pattern with a known name.  Yes, it does have a name for those most affected; The East Wind.  Those other regional wind names likely came on gradually over many years as settlers move into an area.  Just my best guess on that.

What do you think?  Leave it as it is or try again in the age of social media?

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen