1972 Vancouver Tornado Anniversary

4pm Friday…

It’s pretty well-known that the Pacific Northwest isn’t in “tornado alley”, but I think most of us know that we do occasionally get weak tornadoes.  Official tornado counts go back to around 1950.  Since that time in western Oregon, plus the SW Washington counties, 89 tornadoes have been reported.   That’s 89 in almost 70 years!  Obviously they aren’t too common.  The vast majority are weak; EF-0 or EF-1 category.

Tornado How Many Each Category

There were 3 in our area last fall, but all were EF-0 causing minor damage.  Lots of us remember the Manzanita tornado in October 2016 and Aumsville in December 2010.  Those both went right through the middle of small Oregon towns, a rare occurrence.

Tornado Categories

Tornadoes come out of strong thunderstorms and we don’t get many of those west of the Cascades.  That’s the main reason we don’t see tornadoes very often and when they do show up they are usually weak.  There is a bit of a tornado “season” both in late spring and fall.  Notice how rare they are in mid-winter and mid-summer?

Tornado Season Stats

Tornadoes RARELY kill people in our area but it happened just once.  That was on this date in 1972.  6 people died and 300 were injured.  I was just a little 3-year-old kid (living in Hood River county) so I don’t remember it, but I know many of you older folks do.

Storm Summary

  1. A spring squall line with heavy showers and thundershowers swept through the region behind an early morning cold front.  Basically we were in a “showers and sunbreaks” weather pattern we often get behind cold fronts.
  2. Around 1pm a tornado dropped out of a thunderstorm near NE 33rd and Marine Drive in Portland.  This was just west of PDX and quite close to the National Weather Service office (at the airport).
  3. Tornado quickly moved across the Columbia River and through central/east Vancouver on a 9 mile trek toward Brush Prairie.
  4. The deaths all occurred in a several-block stretch.  From around the Fort Vancouver H.S. track to NE Fourth Plain and NE Andresen Rd.
  5. Just a few minutes later the tornado was gone after skipping out to Brush Prairie; lifting off the ground several times.

Tornado Vancouver 1972_a.png

Tornado Vancouver 1972

It’s easy to find lots of details about the tornado online; this link gives a detailed accounting of the storm as it moved through Vancouver:  https://www.historylink.org/File/8099

And here’s the official detailed storm survey/summary from the National Weather Service:  https://www.weather.gov/media/publications/assessments/Tornado%20Vancouver%20WA%201972.pdf

Ogden Elementary school was not rebuilt in the same location.  Instead a “new” Ogden Elementary was built about 3/4 mile to the northeast in just 18 months!

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

11 Responses to 1972 Vancouver Tornado Anniversary

  1. Tanis Leach says:

    If you go by Mark’s definition of winter being forked, then it might be wrong. “What is done for the season… widespread flooding…” The NWS has the central valley under a flood watch with Corvallis expected to get 3-4 inches of rain and Eugene 4-6″. Mary’s River is getting near Flood Stage and the Willamette river is reaching minor flood stage with a chance to reach moderate flood stage. The coast fork is expected to reach moderate flood stage.

    • K says:

      And PDX is stuck in the middle per the norm with meh totals.

    • boydo3 says:

      And down here on the south coast of Oregon we’re having a “winter storm” with flooding, high winds, landslides…you name it!
      What the fork is up with that!?

  2. Roland Derksen says:

    We’ve had a few “tornado-like” (for lack of a better term) events up my way too- but nothing close that 1972 one in your area.

  3. J. Patrick Moore says:

    I remember that day. I was in my senior year at Jesuit. There were about a dozen of us in the classroom, and the wind kicked up and there was hail. The wind got loud. We were watchng the hailstorm when we noticed that the hail was swirling around. Someone commented that it was if a tornado was going by. All of us were incredulous as we takled the next day, after the tornado hit Vancouver and several people were killed.

  4. AT says:

    Just an FYI…the current Ogden school is southeast of where the tornado hit, not northeast.

  5. A bunch of friends and I had just gotten through the intersection of 4th plain and Andresen\NE 72nd ave when the tornado passed over. So surreal. Dark as can be with half-dollar sized hail pelting our car. I remember pointing out to my friends weird cloud formations before all this while we were driving back from Lewisville Park that day. I’ve been fortunate to have witnessed just about every weather extreme since 1962.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I was a young 20 year old working outdoors for the Oak Lodge Water District that day and it was a very unsettled day with intense showers and clear sky sun breaks. But is was still very disturbing to hear of the damage in Vancouver and the deaths of those folks.

  7. Tyler Mode in Battle Ground says:

    My grandma always told me stories about that how she was on the I-5 bridge when the storm moved through, and having survived a tornado in Nebraska she knew what was coming.

    My dad helped pull kids out of the school after it passed.

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