50th anniversary of deadly Vancouver tornado

April 5, 2022

9pm Tuesday…

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.

The last 4 years we’ve seen several EF-0 tornadoes across the region. 

And of course many 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. Also note we’ve never seen an EF-4 or EF-5 in this region.

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?

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 – April 5, 1972

  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.

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