Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Oregonians, remember the Winter of '96?

Flood of '96
We had freezing rain last night up here in Portland.  Très dangereux!  And that old East Wind was howling like a banshee.  My Klamath Falls brethren and perhaps people from New England and the Mid-West like to poke fun at Portland folk for our seeming propensity to panic whenever the temperature drops below freezing.  But they don't know about our East Wind.  When that mean old daddy comes ripping out of the frozen eastern prairies through the natural funnel of the Columbia Gorge, he'll freeze you to the bone.  Falling rain hits the ground and immediately freezes.  It gets so treacherous that you can't even walk on the sidewalk without risking injury.

One of the Senegalese families in the area, friends of Maty and I, just had a baby a couple days ago, and so last night we braved the icy streets to deliver the traditional Senegalese gift to a family with a new addition:  food, and lots of it.  (A fine Senegalese tradition.)

We made a perilous drive across town, and it got me to thinking about winters here in Portland. In the 22 years that I have lived in Portland, there has never been a winter like the Winter of '96.

We had abnormally high rainfall that winter, but low snowfall.  In late January we had a huge snowstorm which piled snow onto the rain-saturated earth.  The snowstorm was followed by a deep freeze that lasted for more than a week, paralyzing the city.  The surface streets were coated with sheets of ice. 

When the warm air from the Pacific finally did thaw the ice, it brought rain with it.  The earth could hold no more water.  The Willamette River rose 29 feet, ten feet above flood stage.  The water came within a hair's breadth of over-topping Portland's seawall.  Volunteers frantically piled sandbags along the city riverfront.  Oaks Park, sited in Sellwood next to the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, was completely submerged.   

Well, the Winter of '96 was a hell of a winter.  I wouldn't mind if I never saw another one like it.  But something tells me that there is more on the way.

That's life, here in Oregon, eh?

Stay warm and dry!


Anonymous said...

Oh, I remember that Winter fondly as I had just moved back from NY... weren't we stuck at Missy's house playing a lively game of poker??

PapaK said...

In December of 1995, there was also one heck of a windstorm. I remember surviving the entire without losing electricity once, while hundreds of thousands of others lost it for some time -- some for days. The next fall, a more typical Portland snowfall: Three inches of wet stuff, melted by dawn, knocked a local transformer out, however.

Ah, blah, blah, blah.

As for me, I much preferred the winter of 2008/9, when we had enough snow on the ground to ski for a week.

David English said...

I remember it as well. I was an undergraduate at PSU (oh that hurts to admit, I feel old). The call for volunteers went out to help fill sandbags down on the waterfront. I actually was assigned to put up tape and keep people back. It was a fitting job for someone as loud mouth as I was. LOL