Tornado Hits Clark County

Amazingly, nobody was hurt

January 10, 2008

Tornado hits VancouverA lunch-hour tornado raked roofs, shredded trees, downed power lines and jumbled traffic Thursday in Hazel Dell and Fruit Valley.

Cristy Jenkins was waiting at a stoplight at Northeast Hazel Dell Avenue and 78th Street when she saw the funnel cloud pass in front of her.

"You could see fir branches floating up in the air and little pieces of metal and shingles buzzing around in a circular motion," she said. "I pulled over, but some people drove right through it."

The tornado appeared to emerge on Vancouver Lake, then slammed into the Vancouver Lake Crew Club. A boathouse and two trailers were destroyed, and more than 50 boats were scattered throughout the 8-acre property and beyond.

No one was there when the tornado hit.

Becky Bittner, a volunteer coach, was the last to leave at 11:15 a.m. after finishing a morning excursion. She wouldn't have survived had the tornado hit an hour earlier, Bittner said: "There's no doubt."

"Nobody was injured," Jim Flaherty, Vancouver Fire Department firefighter and spokesman said Thursday evening. "I'm still in awe of that. We were just lucky enough."

Winds at least 90 mph

Tornado hits VancouverThe National Weather Service said that winds from the tornado reached speeds of 90 to 110 mph. It was about a quarter-mile wide, with an initial path of about two miles. It then lifted up and touched down several times. The last reported touchdown was near Hockinson, at about 12:40 p.m.

The force of the wind was illustrated by the toll it took on power poles, said Mick Shutt, spokesman for Clark Public Utilities.

"We had some poles break," Shutt said. "That doesn't happen very often, not even in big storms."

At the peak of the outage, about 2,500 customers were without power, Shutt said. With the power down, blacked-out stoplights backed up traffic in the area. Power was restored to most customers by mid-afternoon.

Jim Gladson, Clark County's public works spokesman, said reports of storm damage started coming in at about 12:15 p.m. County crews were in the field fixing problems almost immediately, he said, with 25 people on storm-damage detail.

Downed trees were the main damage in a number of places, Gladson said. There also was localized flooding. Downed power lines also caused concern.

"If you step on one and it's live, it's a fatal mistake," Flaherty said.

Tornado hits VancouverAbout 70 firefighters and 20 command personnel from nearly every fire agency in Clark County responded to tornado-related emergencies.

The tornado took off three sections of the roof at the Joel Olson Trucking Inc., 1615 N.E. 78th St., and toppled a tree behind the business into several vehicles, said Erik Svendsen, 33, chief financial officer. It also took the roof off a pump house and knocked over two of its walls.

"It lasted maybe like 15 to 30 seconds, where you could hear the roar," he said. "People were under desks. We could feel the windows shaking."

While these events "are pretty rare, it's not unheard-of in this area," said Steve Todd, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service in Portland.

This tornado occurred along a "shear zone," where wind speeds change directions over very short distances along an area of developing thunderstorms.

"We have a couple of tornadoes a year around here, but they tend to be much less intense and much less damaging than what we have in Kansas," Todd said.

Generally, Northwest twisters lack the frequency and wallop of those in the Midwest.

Tornadoes are caused by the same kind of temperature differentials that spawn thunderstorms. America's midsection collects cool air blasting down from Canada, along with warm air surging in from the Gulf of Mexico.

Combine those elements with the relatively flat terrain of the Midwest, where the air flows unimpeded by mountains and it's a recipe for disaster.

Tornado hits Vancouver The moderating influence of the Pacific Ocean, along with the Northwest's mountainous terrain, usually prevents tornadoes from causing too much damage here.

Mayor's house nearly hit

The twister downed trees only four or five houses away from Mayor Royce Pollard's house near Vancouver Lake. But after a visit home, Pollard found his house untouched other than a power outage.

Pollard praised the response of local police and fire agencies who he said did an "outstanding job." He was also pleased by a phone call of support from Portland Mayor Tom Potter, who offered the help of Portland's police and fire crews. Pollard relayed his thanks but said it wasn't needed.

"Mother Nature can be very surprising and unforgiving," Pollard said. "That's why we have to be careful. It speaks to the need to be prepared for emergencies."

Columbian staff writers Dean Baker, Justin Carinci, Jose Paul Corona, Don Hamilton, Scott Hewitt, Jeffrey Mize, Isolde Raftery and Erik Robinson contributed to this report.

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