40th Anniversary of Great Vancouver Tornado
The Vancouver tornado of 1972 stands alone in the record books. It is the holy grail of Pacific Northwest tornadoes. Even now, 40 years later, the April 5th 1972 Vancouver tornado is the single deadliest tornado to strike west of the Rocky Mountains in modern history, killing six people and injuring more than 300 in Vancouver, Washington alone. Those who lived through that day witnessed the fury of mother nature to a degree that is not likely to be matched again anytime soon. The 1972 tornado was similar in atmospheric structure to that of the Hazel Dell tornado of January 2008. However, the 1972 tornado was much stronger. The 2008 Hazel Dell tornado was an EF1 on the newer Enhanced Fujita scale that became operational in 2007. Winds were likely between 90-110 MPH in the 2008 Hazel Dell tornado. The Vancouver tornado of 1972 was rated an F3 under the original Fujita scale which came online in 1971. Winds on the older Fujita scale were estimated between 158–206 MPH if rated as an F3, as was the case in the Vancouver tornado of 1972.
Here is a tornado track map of the Vancouver tornado of April 5th 1972 —
If you would like to download the full resolution image of this map, please click: http://img839.imageshack.us/img839/910/tornadotrackmap1972.jpg
Unlike tornados east of the Rockies, tornados in the Pacific Northwest are referred to by many as “cold core” due to their lack of humid and buoyant air. The Pacific ocean keeps our atmosphere relatively mild year round. This is not conducive for the formation of super cell thunderstorms needed to generate the really large and damaging tornados you might see in the Midwest. What makes the 1972 tornado so rare is the fact that it was able to spin up to F3 status and stay on the ground for nearly 8 miles. Meteorologists I have spoken with over the years have hypothesized that both the Columbia River and Vancouver Lake could aid in the development of tornados across Clark County. Although the larger mechanism at play for these tornados lies in the atmosphere above us, there is something to be said for these two large bodies of water sitting just upwind from where these two tornados formed and tracked. Some Meteorologists believe that Vancouver sits in a rare atmospheric location, on the down slope side of Portland’s West Hills. As a line of strong springtime showers moves west to east over the west hills, it often collides with upper air flowing south to north up the Willamette Valley. When these two air masses collide, it creates some degree of rotation in the atmosphere. Even with the proper atmospheric conditions present, the odds of seeing another “perfect storm” akin to April 5th 1972 is extremely small, no matter which method of calculation you use.
Portland National Weather Service Office Write Up On The 1972 Vancouver Tornado & Wind Reports
Here is some excellent historical information on the April 5th 1972 tornado, compliments of the Portland office of the National Weather Service.
A very turbulent squall line moved northeast across Portland, causing scattered wind damage, broken tree limbs, and even uprooting some trees. Track of the strongest storm cell in the squall line was first indicated at Tigard where straight line winds unroofed a lumber warehouse at 12965 SW Pacific Highway, and its debris damaged five vehicles parked in a neighboring service station. High winds were experienced across the West Hills of Portland and tree limbs littered Hamilton Park. Passage of the storm cells across Portland caused a 0.12 inch pressure jump as recorded by the NWS Climatology Office in the Multnomah Building in downtown Portland. Straight line winds toppled several trees at the south edge of the Riverside Country Club just 1.4 miles southwest of the Columbia River’s south bank.
The tornado that developed from this storm fist touched down at the south edge of the Columbia River damaging four pleasure boat moorages in the 3300 to 3400 blocks of NE Marine Drive. About 50 cabin cruisers were either damaged or blown about by the wind as it damaged a dry dock, boat houses and dock shelters. The funnel was not observed locally because it was obscured by mud and flying debris. It was described as a clack mass, and several persons reported seeing water being drawn up into the cloud as the tornado moved one-half mile before crossing the Oregon-Washington state line in the middle of the Columbia River and continuing on to the Washington shore. Observers were unable to see across the Columbia River because of the water vapor. The tornado continued its nine-mile total damage path across the east side of Vancouver to the Brush Prairie area. Six persons lost their lives in Vancouver when Peter S. Ogden Elementary School was ripped apart, along with a local bowling alley and a nearby store. 300 persons were injured. The tornado caused five to six million dollars in property damage in Vancouver alone. The tornado was the most devastating tornado in Oregon and Washington recorded weather history, dating back to 1871.
Wind Reports from April 5 1972, per the Portland Office of the National Weather Service
3417 NE Marine Drive, Portland, South wind 40 to 50 mph before the storm hit, then South wind hit 120 mph before measuring equipment was damaged.
3737 NE Marine Drive (Portland) Southeast wind 80 mph
Portland National Weather Service Office, 5421 NE Marine Drive (about 1 mile east of the tornado touchdown) recorded a gust of 63 mph from the south at 12:53 pm.
Links on the web
Oregon Chapter of the American Meteorological Society:
National Weather Service Portland’s list of past local tornados:
National Database of United States Tornados 1950-2010:
Reminder — Oregon Chapter of the American Meteorological Society to Host Regional Climate Change Meeting with Oregon Climatologist Dr. Phil Mote at Portland State University on Tuesday, April 10th 7-9pm —
The Oregon Chapter of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) will co-host a two hour meeting at Portland State University’s Grand Ballroom with Oregon Climatologist Dr. Phil Mote on Tuesday, April 10th from 7-9pm. This free public meeting will explore humans role in global climate change. It is being billed as, “The Scientific Case for Human Influence on Global Climate: What We Learn From Analyzing ALL The Evidence.” If you would like complete details about this meeting, including a PSU campus map and driving directions, please see: http://www.ametsoc.org/chapters/oregon. Joining Dr. Mote will be Andreas Schmittner, Oregon State University Professor of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences and Dr. Christina Hulbe, Professor of Geology at Portland State University. The panel plans to give a single joint presentation that will educate attendees on the influence humans have on climate, as backed by scientific evidence. The panel may also raise counterpoints to data presented at a similar Oregon AMS meeting last January. In that meeting, the Oregon Chapter of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) hosted a panel of scientists that asked the question, “Is Human Caused Global Warming the Greatest Scientific Myth of Our Generation?” For a recap of the January meeting click: http://tinyurl.com/6vk27km.
Steve Pierce, President
Oregon Chapter of the American Meteorological Society (AMS)
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