Monday, January 14, 2008

Tornado Hits Vancouver, WA

Here follows a story about a tornado. It was a big deal the day it happened, and there was something on page 2 of the Local section of the Seattle Times the day after it happened, but after that it disappeared from the news.
Last June when my cousin and I were driving down I-5, as we approached Eugene, Oregon, I saw in the distance what looked like a classic funnel cloud. Darned if the thing didn’t keep dipping down and become a tornado. It ran along the hillside to the east of the freeway, lasting a few minutes. I pulled off the road and rummaged through the trunk of my car looking for a camera but came up empty, so I had nothing later to prove to myself or anyone else that I saw it.
But I’ve been talking about it ever since. I saw a tornado! In Oregon! I was absolutely thrilled and flummoxed. I didn’t think tornados happened anywhere on the west coast, but what I saw that day and what happened in Vancouver last week has taught me otherwise.
My little hillside tornado didn’t seem to do any harm to the trees it snaked through, and the one in Vancouver did property damage, but apparently no one was hurt. So we don’t usually have the makings of big tornados out here, but still – wow. A tornado is a powerful force, even a little one.
I received an email from my friend Sonya a couple of days after the tornado took the shingles off her roof, and all she could talk about was old timey and bluegrass festivals and musicians. Sonya has her priorities, I thought, and I wrote to her to say so, but today she emails:
“wrote you before the big wind, so your amazement at my sangfroid is unfounded. but i would have written on the festivals anyway. they are the sunlight in my winter.
“i've been working on a dry shade garden with native plants, and am going to have to rethink. the tornado took the shade from my front yard and put it in the back yard - in pieces. lost both big, beautiful trees. this was an ugly but very educational experience. jean, the elderly lady at the foot of my street, lost her magnificent oak. 31" in diameter, 23' to the first branches. the oak rose in the air at least 3 feet, gave a quarter turn, and fell over. when i inspected it, i discovered it had no taproot, which i had understood to be one of the reasons oaks are so "mighty". it was at the bottom of a slope, 3 feet from the pavement. obviously it was in a water trap and did need a taproot. i noticed many other uprooted trees, planted on down slopes too close to the curb to develop a good root system on that side.
“we saw it coming and we saw it at work. i saw what looked like a human body hurtle past my basement window at what randy said was 100 miles an hour, which, on later inspection, turned out to be a branch from the deodar. but it wasn't Katrina. it wasn't sustained. none of the windows broke. we are all fine. insurance will pay at least half of reroofing, and I knew the roof had at best five years left. it looks like we have 3-4 cords of wood for heating. (we'll have to use those anti-creosote logs too, unfortunately). and I was hemming and hawing (and not willingly sawing) about taking down the scotch pine at the house corner - bigger every year and too close to the foundation. so the weather-gods decided for me!
“i talked to the folks doing jean's yard, and looks like my tenant will have to cut the branches into firewood for her. my tenant's's brother knows somebody who knows somebody (etc.) who buys hardwood trees. the treecutters were pretty huffed, thinking to take away a heck of a lot of hardwood…the skyline is gone. our woodpecker tree is gone. the bat tree is gone (i don't know if bats lived in it, but we watched them rise up behind it every warm evening.) and we've had to chase off wood thieves who were "just helping" (themselves) twice. jorgenson woods, our newly developed greenspace/park along chicken creek, is a tearful site. we were on one edge of the tornado's swath, and the park on the other. sad. but Nature renews.
“i just hate waiting.

Tornado Parking Space

I returned from a shopping trip to Granny’s yesterday and turned on the Northwest News Channel while I made my lunch. They were chattering about a tornado hitting Vancouver, Washington. That got my attention. I have a friend, Sonya, who lives in Vancouver, Washington.
As I watched a realization came to me: this tornado had hit near Sonya’s neighborhood. The announcer said something about the path of the tornado running “south of 78th Street.” I looked in my address book and saw that Sonya’s address started with, “74…” and knew that the tornado had gone right through Sonya’s neighborhood.
I tried calling her, knowing it was a vain exercise, knowing that all the wires were down and there would be no answer. I watched the news, which said no one was injured, and I waited.
Sonya called this morning. The caller ID said, “Vancouver, WA,” so I picked it up and said, “ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?” She laughed and said yes, then she told me what happened.
“The thunder sounded like a pile driver,” she said. “The wind sounded like water running, like a flash flood.”
Naturally she and her tenant, who lives in her basement, were curious, and went out on the front porch to see what kind of show the weather was putting on. Her tenant, Randy, called to his son, “Hey, it’s a tornado! Come and see this.” So they stood and watched for a while, and then Randy, who has seen tornados before, understood that it was coming their way.
“Sonya, leave the front door open and get in the basement and don’t argue,” he said. They all adjourned to the basement and watched as the tree in the yard snapped off and carried away all the utility lines in front of the house.
It was all over in a few seconds. When they believed it was safe they came out to find that a lot of shingles were gone from the roof, and of course the tree and the utility lines were no more. They were fortunate that it wasn’t worse – their vehicles were not crushed or trapped by debris, as many of their neighbors’ vehicles were. Sonya spent the night at the home of a friend whose house was not in the path of the tornado.
As far as we know no one got hurt, although a lot of property was damaged, and the Vancouver Lake Crew Club was wiped out.
I went online last night looking for news about the tornado, and was surprised to find that what came up when I googled “Vancouver, WA + tornado” was a tornado that hit Vancouver on April 5, 1972.
That was a bigger, nastier tornado. It killed 6 people, and destroyed many buildings, including Peter S. Ogden elementary school, where 70 children were injured. Students at the nearby high school who saw the elementary school collapse ran to the scene to dig kids out.
What was interesting to me was that yesterday’s tornado hit at virtually the same place as the 1972 tornado. Hm. If the Midwest has Tornado Alley, perhaps Vancouver, Washington, has the Northwest’s Tornado Parking Space.
You know, when I moved here from California all those years ago I thought I had moved away from earthquakes, and I thought that we didn’t get tornados on the west coast. Live and learn.

Sidebar (if you’ve got space, Ed):

Vancouver Lake Crew Club destroyed by tornado

This item was posted on the Tacoma News Tribune website on January 10: "Today’s tornado ripped 2 boathouses off the foundations and destroyed most of the club’s 50 rowing shells as well as rowing machines, trailers and oars. The club’s founder, Bill Kalenius, was the head coach at the University of Puget Sound for several years in the 1970s while the team was rowing down on Commencement Bay. Bill has been battling cancer for years and recently finished chemo and radiation treatment."
An account has been started for donations at the Bank of Clark County. Donations should be attention:
Vancouver Lake Crew
8915 NW 21st Ave
Vancouver 98665

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