Winter storms moving through Columbia County continue to challenge local residents now and into the future.
At the National Weather Service in Portland, meteorologist Mile Higa is looking at the latest forecast models that indicate another weather challenge emerging this coming weekend for Columbia County.
A cold blast from Alaska is heading south through Washington and into Oregon that will cause temperatures to drop significantly and could bring a mix of rain and snow by Sunday and Monday.
“Accumulations are likely in the hills and higher elevations,” Higa said. “More than likely, it will be a mix of rain and snow with brief accumulation at the lower levels.”
Last year at this time, snow did fall across Columbia County. A light dusting challenged drivers and pedestrians in St. Helens and Scappoose. More snow accumulated at higher elevations in the county.
Residents in Columbia County and across the region who suffered storm damage to their homes and properties are cleaning up following last weeks strong wind and rain storms.
The Chronicle first reported Clyde Barlow's experience just after the storm on Jan. 13.
Barlow has lived at his home on North Vernonia Road in St. Helens for 40 years and on Jan. 13, he experienced his second serious encounter with a wind and rain storm in the past five years.
“At about midnight last night we heard this tremendous loud bang and then the lights when out,” he said, the day after the storm hit.
At first, Barlow said he thought it was something happening down the street, but his wife went to the front door and looked outside and told him there was a tree on the house.
Barlow said the crash knocked items off the shelves in his home and broke portions of the porch and the front of the home. Barlow said, fortunately, no one was hurt during the crash.
The house had been built before 1900 and Barlow estimated the nearby tree where the branch was ripped off by the wind was about 100 years old.
Barlow estimated the branch that struck his house early Jan. 13 is about 20-feet long and about 18-inches thick.
“It weights several thousand pounds,” he said.
On the side of the house, the large branch knocked a gutter off the house and debris cluttered the space between Barlow’s house and a next-door church.
Barlow will have a tree expert and insurance adjuster come by to determine the damage estimate and decide if the tree itself should be removed.
The first encounter with wind storms and Barlow came about five years ago. He had parked his truck in the church parking lot and after emerging from services, he couldn’t find his truck. In its place was a large tree knocked over by the wind.
“The tree had fallen onto my truck,” Barlow said. “It was totaled. So, this tree into the house was not my first encounter with wind storms. I can’t believe it. Two times in the last five or six years.”
Regional roads and highways were inundated with high water and some affected by landslides during the storm, the night of Jan. 12, a mud and rock slide briefly closed a portion of Highway 30 near Sauvie Island. A larger slide closed a 20-mile stretch of I-84 near Troutdale, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). The roadway has since reopened but ODOT continues to caution drivers to be aware of the landslide hazards.
Clatskanie city officials briefly closed the city’s main park in the downtown area following flooding. The park was reopened on Jan. 13. No other major storm damage was reported in the Clatskanie or Rainier area.
Across the region, utility crews scrambled to restore power following outages related to the Jan. 13 wind and rain storm. ODOT issued a travel advisory warning drivers and residents of the storm aftermath.
“Travelers are reminded to slow down, especially through high water,” the ODOT advisory stated.” Driving through several inches of water at high speed can cause you to lose control of the car; it could also splash water into the engine and stall it. Going fast through high water can also cause wakes which can be hazardous to other vehicles. Lowering your speed helps you prepare for sudden stops caused by disabled cars, debris and other wet-weather hazards.”
A landslide briefly closed Highway 30 east of Astoria Jan. 4.
Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is encouraging residents to be aware – and prepared – for flooding, landslides and power outages though the winter. OEM said people, structures and roads located below steep slopes in canyons and near the mouths of canyons may be at serious risk. Read more about landslides and safety preparations at thechronicleonline.com.
The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) said the landslides can be caused by several factors, including the type of geology, the slope and water. Rainwater buildup following frequents storms can lead to a landslide.
According to a DOGAMI executive summary report about the landslide hazards in Columbia County, landslides and debris flows are common in the Oregon Coast Range due to the combination of high precipitation, steep slopes, and landslide-prone geologic units.
One of Oregon’s largest landslides occurred in March 2019 along Highway 101 between Brookings and Gold Beach. Work to stabilize the Hooskanaden Slide area continued through 2020. State geologists are using sensors and monitors at that slide area and others in Oregon. One of those geologists is Curran Mohney with the Oregon Department of Transportation.
“Primarily what I want to know is how much time we have left for our highways in certain areas,” Mohney said. “What’s the life span of our highways on the coast and in our stressed areas? How fast are landslides accelerating, especially with climate change drivers? How long until we lose that battle?”
Mohney is hopeful the information gathered will be beneficial to the entire state.
“It’s telling us things about how and why landslides happen in certain places,” he said. “Just imagining what our issues are going to be with climate change and Cascadia (the Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquake) – it seems insurmountable. So if we can figure out anything about where, why, how, then we can be prepared. Maybe we can go out ahead of time and make smart decisions.”