What Happened to “The Coho Wind”?

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



77 Responses to What Happened to “The Coho Wind”?

  1. I remember when there was the talk about changing the name of the east wind, which I thought was a stupid idea. The east wind was and is the east wind. End of story.
    However,… I recently read an early history writing by Albert Thompson, who was in the Columbia River Gorge area in the 1850’s. He is telling about the arrival of the Joslyns who were the first settlers in the area.

    “….White Salmon is twenty miles west of The Dalles, on the north side of the Columbia, and the same distance east from the Cascades. At that time the Indians held undisputed possession. The scenery there is unrivalled anywhere else along the Columbia,
    and its climate different; it being where in summer the rain and the sunshine meet, and in winter the warm “Chinook” and the cold “Walla Walla’ winds wage their fiercest battles….”

  2. Jake in Gresham says:

    Didn’t feel a thing. I was in Damascus all day. Glad it wasn’t worse. All GFS runs today pushed the cold air well out range. Hardly touches the eastern slopes of the Cascades. Eh, not feeling this, ridge is showing its strength me thinks. The 00z is at about 27% done. Hitting that F5. 😛

    • JohnD says:

      Yeah agreed. Still–like a lot of us–I would rather have our current 45′ sunny-breezy weather (with no real winter weather in sight) than seemingly endless 45′ drizzly-gloomy weather (with no real winter weather in sight!) And too early yet for water table considerations. So I guess enjoy! What else can we do?

      • Jake in Gresham says:

        Don’t throw tomatoes. But I am starting to miss that weather a little. More than anything this is about me finally getting myself a weather station (Ambient Weather WS-2902). It will be here on the 20th.

        I want a blizzard gosh darn it!

        • Ken in Wood Village says:

          I wouldn’t through it in just yet. I still think that things could change. I want to think by next week something will happen. Just my thoughts on the matter 🙂

        • Jake in Gresham says:

          AA Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries in hand waiting on my weather station for total disappointment. Lol!

        • Ken in Wood Village says:

          LMAO, save the batteries for your flashlight. The wind is getting strong again…when will it stop…LOL

        • Ken in Wood Village says:

          Told you, Look at the 00Z GFS now 🙂

        • Jake in Gresham says:

          It clearly is held off by the Cascades but it’s for sure trying to bring things back! Oh boy. (_)

        • Ken in Wood Village says:

          Yea, I think your right. I still think if anything, the pattern will change. We should know better when we get closer.

  3. W7ENK says:

    I didn’t feel it, I was driving at the time. Been waiting for another one since ’93… I feel so ripped off!! >_<

  4. Jack says:

    Yep. Felt the earthquake. House shaking for a few seconds. Thought it was wind, but the house has never shaken like that before from wind. Earthquake. – Camas, WA, 600 ft elevation.

  5. Ken in Wood Village says:

    I thought I felt something. I was laying in bed watching TV and playing a game when all of a sudden my bed started shaking. It was small at first then it got bigger. I first thought it was a big guest of wind but I didn’t hear a big guest go by at the time. WOW.

  6. MasterNate says:

    Just experienced an earthquake about 5 miles out of Molalla. Shook the house and window but nothing more. Lasted about 5 seconds. Probably not much over a 3 or 3.5

  7. Jack says:

    Winds picking up a bit. Some gusts, nothing major yet. – Camas, WA, 600′ elevation.

  8. Ken in Wood Village says:

    I did notice that the CFSv2 changed a lot from the 00Z to 06Z. It gives us more cold air. I’m thinking the GFS probably will change again because of it. Just a thought…lol!!!!

  9. JERAT416 says:

    Some people in Facebook land have jumped on the snow train (for the 21st) They claim one graphic of forecasted snow for the Portland metro means it will snow. I try to explain how it’s not good to get their hopes up. Sometimes it’s like talking to some brick wall.

  10. Andy says:

    I would not trust the models more than five days out. This pesky high pressure is very strong In the Western US. We need a major shift in the pattern or are storm track will be weak and the cold air will stay east of the divide.

    • Ken in Wood Village says:

      I agree, when I have looked at the last two runs it looks a little funny. I also saw this in the model a few days ago then it went back to giving us a lot of cold air and snow. I think it will trend back to what we saw yesterday. If it keeps up 3 or 4 runs then I would be very concerned.

    • Generally that’s a good policy. Much of the time during the winter, there’s at least one model that sometimes shows a big snowstorm or arctic blast 10+ days out. And the typical course of events is for that scenario to vanish on subsequent runs.

      • Ken in Wood Village says:

        I have seen that too. It seems to come and go then when it gets closer to the day it seems to be there for us. All I know is sometime next week there should be a shift in the atmosphere. Once that starts taking shape, I think the models will be able to figure what will happen next.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I grew up on the east coast, where we had Nor’ Eastahs: another popular compass-point name. Then again, we called the wind “Mariah,” at least in song. Zephr was the Greek god of the west wind. As a name, our East Wind has a lot going for it: a deeply held traditional name AND its own tune.

  12. Jason Hougak says:


  13. Diana F. says:

    Wow Mark, you come up with some interesting, local history! I love it!

    And yah, the East Winds will always be known as the East Winds. it’s the perfect, descriptive, local name. We all know exactly what it means when those two words are uttered together! Brrrrr!

    I love the Indian and the fishing history behind our gorgeous community, and the East wind is a sensible Indian name, as well as the local favorite.

    Reminds me of a situation in Vancouver, where I live. (WA)
    We have one mall. For years and years and years, it was called “Vancouver Mall”. Then a company called Westfield bought it. Don’t remember exactly and I’m too lazy to use Google for the 15th time today, but it’s been officially re-named “Westfield Mall” for probably 20 years now.

    Except it wasn’t, because no one ever calls it that. I have literally never, ever heard anyone call Vancouver Mall the Westfield Mall!

  14. W7ENK says:

    Had my first frost, first below freezing temperature and first hard freeze of the season, all in one last night. Dropped down to 26F this morning, was 28F when I left for work on the bike.

    Still not sure why I subjected myself to that… 😕

  15. While “Coho Wind” does sound kind of cool, I think people like “East Wind” for its simplicity. The wind is such a powerful force in the area that just the generic descriptor “east wind” is enough to remind anyone who’s lived or even just worked near the Gorge of how impressive/pain in the butt/scary it can be.

  16. Joshua Downtown PDX says:

    The 00z GFS sure is a bummer after the 18z. The ridge is further east. Too close to us.

  17. Jason Hougak says:

    00Z 💥🎈📌

  18. I grew up in Vancouver and it was the east wind then… my vote leave it be. Coho sounds totally lame IMO!

  19. Garrison - Aumsville says:

    Hi I’m very interested in the weather this winter but do not know how to get to it or use the forecast models you guys are talking about. Any help?

  20. Nahtalkin says:

    “The Jolly Coho” is blowin’ down the gorge and it won’t be long and Jolly old St. Nick will be blowin’ into town.

  21. Jason Hougak says:

    It’s the Gorge… it either blows east or west. I never cared for the name Coho wind. On the front range of the Rockies they know a Chinook wind. They don’t even have Chinook in their rivers. We should have the Chinook wind for the Gorge. However with Salmon populations continuing to dwindle maybe the Squawfish wind should be applied.

    • Nahtalkin says:

      Kind of an insensitive term don’t you think. Or do you?

      • Jason Hougak says:

        I’m a salmon fisherman and there are so many factors effecting them that it’s really sad to see whats happening. Predators in the Columbia such as Squawfish, Walleye, and Bass are eating tremendous amount of smolt while Ocean conditions are affecting them at sea. Once back in the Columbia the seals are having their way with them all the way to Bonneville Dam. That’s just the natural cycle not including what we as people have done. Just chill out Farmer Ted I was only joking… sheesh!!!

    • Sean Johnson says:

      Northern pikeminnow lol ; )

  22. Jake in Gresham says:

    To my untrained eye regarding the 18z. The cold is not as severe going into Montana around the 20th (range -26 to -18) is not as dense. However, it’s moved more East and really takes into the Columbia basin. Usually, models move the cold air East and we get “something” modified artic air behind the Cascades.

    In this case it looks like it wants to bring a second wave around the 28th too. All I can say is wow. Not everyday the GFS does a few runs of bringing -14 all the way off shore as if the Cascades or Coastal range don’t even exist. Very aggressive 12z. If that happens that is blizzard territory. Jeez.


    • Jake in Gresham says:

      A worthy note. Go to the GFS, under Additional Sectors pick Alaska and then pick the 18z under temperature at 850mb.

      You’ll see a massive amount of arctic air drive South over British Columbia all the way into Oregon. At this point it’s safe to say the GFS is moving forward and progressive. Curious to see what it does from here.

      • Ken in Wood Village says:

        I was thinking the same thing. The past few runs have been progressive with sending cold air down our way. Like you, it will be curious to see what happens the next few runs.

    • Jake in Gresham says:

      Yeah lol! I mean once the NAM and Euro get into scope we’re going to be really in the ballgame. Ten days out all the models fairly agreed on the 2008 snowstorm in December. This reminiscent of that. But still far out there to say anything for sure. Dear Santa….

  23. JohnD says:

    Yeah I remember back then…thinking “really”?! Now to revisit: How about the “Trout Winds”?! (Whoops, Troutdale folks might–or might not–like that.!) Just joking overall. I personally wouldn’t be happy if those darn winds were anything but the “EAST WINDS”!
    And btw, here’s to a great evolving winter!

  24. Jason Hougak says:

    18Z GFS even better than 12Z showing more precipitation

  25. runrain says:

    Might as well call it Fishstick, as in frozen fish.

  26. marinersfan85 says:

    Coho is a fun fish to catch, especially on light gear.

  27. Jason Hougak says:

    First day I’ve seen below average temperature on climate prediction center days 8-14.

  28. JERAT416 says:

    How do any of the names of wind stick then?

  29. Jack says:

    The east wind is a good name. Trying anything else will be phony, forced. Coho wind is stupid.

  30. Jason Hougak says:

    1z GFS insane

    • Ken in Wood Village says:

      I’m assuming you where talking about the 12Z GFS and yes, I would say insane. I will admit, it’s been showing this around Christmas time a lot. Let’s see if it keeps showing this in the next few runs.

    • Nahtalkin says:

      “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future”

  31. I personally liked the name my grandmother had for it: devil winds. However, east winds is in common usage nowdays, and its fitting…why change?

  32. Lisa Nowak says:

    I grew up in Corbett, leaving in 1984 when I graduated high school. I mocked this effort 20 years ago and predicted the name would never stick for the very reasons Nev Scott and Catherine have provided.

    I think your summary is correct. Pat Timm is wrong on this one. Gorge dwellers would dig in just as hard as they did back in 1997.

  33. sds says:

    I don’t think you will ever change it–it is directional and simple. The wind from the east is a beast!

  34. JERAT416 says:

    I totally don’t remember this. Those were the days I watched The Boz on TV. Sorry Mark, I didn’t know who you were then.

  35. Gene says:

    I seem to remember another reason for the Coho wind name: when it blew, it was COld in the winter and HOt in the summer, thus the name COHO. Ironically, I was just having a conversation with someone a few weeks ago about why the name fell out of favor. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that East Wind is a simple and easy name, iconic and with a lot of history to it. I didn’t realize it had been 20 years since that naming contest! I personally don’t mind Coho, but I’m fine with East Wind, too.

  36. merwoman says:

    Leave it alone, it already has a perfectly good name. Also, “Corbett, home of the Coho” just sounds silly. So does “The Coho is back,” “A major Coho event,” and “The Coho blew my roof into Troutdale.” 😉

  37. Maria says:

    I agree that it has a name. East wind might not be exciting, but it means more to us than just any wind coming from a certain direction. When you say “east wind,” I know that misery is coming. (And if we tried to rename it now, we probably end up with windy mcwindy face, knowing the internet.)

  38. Ken in Wood Village says:

    I have lived out here for the past 24 year and I have always used “The East Wind” I really don’t feel like calling it a fish…LOL.

  39. The whole thing seems fishy to me.

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