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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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Tornado warning for Clark County passes; storm dumped half an inch of rain on area

By , Columbian Web Editor, and
, Columbian staff writer

The National Weather Service in Portland reported that no tornadoes formed Monday in central Clark County after a thunderstorm capable of forming such a weather event was spotted near downtown Vancouver.

The agency issued a tornado warning at 2:57 p.m. for a large strip of central Clark County, encompassing Battle Ground, Barberton and Hockinson, after a severe thunderstorm was detected over the Five Corners area. The storm coasted northeast at 20 mph, but its risk quickly dissipated, and the warning was canceled roughly 20 minutes after it was announced.

Still, the potential for harm was prominent, said Colby Neuman, National Weather Service meteorologist. Tornadoes, regardless of how faint one may be, can knock over trees and fling debris that could injure or kill passersby.

“There was a genuine concern at least a weak tornado could happen,” he said.

Roughly half an inch to an inch of rain fell within an hour during the storm’s peak, according to the National Weather Service.

Tornadoes rare in Clark County, but not unheard of

The 2015 tornado in Battle Ground joins a lengthening list of weather events that seem like they belong in Kansas, not the Pacific Northwest. But tornadoes in Clark County, while usually lacking the wallop of Midwest storms, are not unheard of here.

• On Oct. 23, 2014, a tornado sliced through Longview and Kelso and left a 6-mile trail of downed trees, shattered windows and missing roofs. No injuries were reported.

• In March 2013, a small tornado selectively tore through one Hockinson barn but left no other damage.

• The strong and long-lived tornado of January 2008 was different. It formed near Vancouver Lake and began its journey by destroying a crew boathouse and two trailers and strewing 50 boats across an 8-acre area there. Then the twister climbed up into Hazel Dell, where it downed trees and utility poles and caused major damage to several homes and businesses. The wind speed of that storm was clocked at 90 to 110 mph. Amazingly, no one was injured.

• But the most destructive tornado ever recorded in Washington or Oregon struck Vancouver in April 1972. That storm killed six people near Fourth Plain Boulevard and Andresen Road and caused millions of dollars in damage, including destroying Ogden Elementary School. It carved an 8-mile path of destruction with wind speeds as high as 200 mph.

— Scott Hewitt

Water pooled into roadways, including northbound and southbound lanes on Interstate 5 near downtown Vancouver. The Washington Department of Transportation urged commuters to remain cautious when driving in flooded areas.

Monday’s tornado risk is not similar to what one would experience in the central United States. Instead, what likely happened was spin in the lower atmosphere got sucked into the thunderstorm — different from when a storm directly produces tornadoes, Neuman said.

Yet, these occurrences aren’t necessarily rare in the region, he added, as Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon average one to three weak tornadoes a year.

On Wednesday, a small tornado briefly funneled through La Center, shaking trash cans and peeling loose shingles from rooftops. In December 2015, a tornado moving quicker than 100 mph tore through Battle Ground, downing power lines and damaging homes in its wake.

Neither weather event was as cataclysmic as Vancouver’s deadly 1972 tornado that killed six people and demolished Peter S. Ogden Elementary School, a bowling center and grocery store. But the severity of this storm was uncommon.

The National Weather Service reported that rain will taper through Friday, providing a few days of mild conditions, though it will likely return during the weekend.

Columbian staff writer