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Washington's Top 15 Weather Events of the 1900s

Editor's Note: Staff at the National Weather Service offices in Washington have reviewed records of major weather events to affect the state over the past 100 years. Based on impacts to people, property, and the economy, National Weather Service has chosen the top 15 weather-related events to impact Washington, listed in ascending order. Washington is among the nation's leaders in Presidentially declared weather-related disasters. So, choosing among the numerous 20th century weather events was a difficult task.

Many of the events did not impact just Washington state alone. These events were widespread, impacting other parts of Pacific Northwest states. These kinds of events are included as well. You will note that most of the larger events are recent. This is due to the fact that record keeping has improved in the latter half of the century, while urbanization in the state has increased the economic impacts of severe storms and floods.

This information is taken from the National Weather Service pages in September. 2008.

10. November, 1990 - Statewide Flooding

Widespread, major flooding on western Washington rivers, especially the rivers of northwest Washington, and several eastern Washington rivers
* Two deaths
* Damage estimated $250 million
* Interstate 90 Lake Washington floating bridge sank during this flooding event
* Stands as the highest flood of record for many northwest Washington rivers including the Elwha, Cedar, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, Snohomish, and Stillaguamish

9. January/February, 1916 - Seattle's Greatest Snowstorm

* Seattle recorded its maximum snowfall ever in a 24 hour period, 21.5" on February 1st
* Other parts of western Washington received between 2 to 4 feet of snow
* Winds created snow drifts as high as 5 feet
* Region was crippled, transportation essentially halted
* Seattle January snowfall was 23", February snowfall 35", total 58"

8. February, 1996 - Widespread Flooding in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho

* Major major flooding on rivers of western and southeast Washington
* Widespread flooding on rivers across much of Oregon
* Major flooding in northern Idaho
* Damage region wide estimated $800 million
* Three deaths in Washington state alone
* Highest flood of record on many southwest Washington rivers, most notably the Chehalis, Skookumchuck, and Nisqually

7. April 5, 1972 - Washington's Deadliest Tornado Outbreak

* An F3 tornado touched down in Vancouver
* 6 deaths and 300 injured, Washington led nation in tornado deaths that year
* Tornado swept through a grocery store, bowling alley, and grade school near where Vancouver Mall is today
* 50 million dollars in damage
* Later that day, another F3 tornado touched down west of Spokane
* An F2 tornado struck rural Stevens county
* Numerous severe thunderstorms with large hail and damaging winds were reported over other areas of eastern Washington

6. March 1, 1910 - Stevens Pass Avalanche

* The deadliest avalanche in U.S. history occurred near Stevens Pass
* Two trains were swept off the tracks into a ravine, claiming 96 lives

5. May 18, 1980 - Eruption of Mount St. Helens

* Over 60 lives lost from the eruption and ensuing mud flow on the Toutle River
* Sent an ash plume into parts of Eastern Washington and beyond
* The ash fell like snow, drifting as deep as two feet, crushing crops, halting transportation, and causing schools and businesses to close
* A national monument was formed in the wake of the event

4. August 20 - September 9, 1910 - Massive Forest Fires in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho

* Three million acres of timber were scorched
* Conflagration created its own weather. Ships in the Pacific Ocean were lost in the smoke, which also reached the Atlantic seaboard
* The flames claimed 85 lives - 72 of them firefighters

3. January 13, 1950 - The January 1950 Blizzard

* 21.4" of snow fell in Seattle on the 13th together with winds of 25-40 MPH, the 2nd greatest 24 hour snowfall recorded
* Claimed 13 lives in the Puget Sound area
* During Jan, 18 days with high temps 32 degrees or lower
* The winter of 1949-50 the coldest winter on record in Seattle - average temp 34.4 degrees
* Eastern Washington, North Idaho, and parts of Oregon were paralyzed - lower elevation snow depths ranged up to 50 inches and temperatures plunged into minus teens and twenties. Several dozen fatalities

2. May/June 1948 - Greatest Spring Snowmelt Flooding

* Widespread flooding in northern Idaho, eastern Washington and along the Columbia river to the Pacific Ocean
* Columbia River below Priest Rapids WA, Flood of Record 458.65 FT (FS 432.0 FT)
* Lake Pend Oreille near Hope ID, Flood of Record 2071.2 FT (FS 2063.5 FT)
* Pend Oreille River below Albeni Falls, ID Flow of Record 160000 CFS (FF 100 kCFS)
* Methow River at Pateros WA, Flood of Record stage > 12.30 FT (FS 10.0 FT)
* St. Joe River at Calder, ID Flood of Record 18.10 FT (FS 13.0 FT)
* May 30, 1948 - Vanport Flood
* America's largest war-time housing project wiped out in less than one hour as dikes along the Columbia river near Portland gave way
* Vanport never came back and is now Delta Park area of north Portland
* Vancouver, Camas, Kalama, Kelso/Longview also suffered flooding
* Flood lasted 45 days

1. October 12, 1962 - The Columbus Day Wind Storm

* The mother of all wind storms this century, the wind storm all others are compared to
* Strongest widespread non-hurricane wind storm to strike the continental U.S. this century
* Struck from northern California to British Columbia
* Claimed 46 lives, blew down 15 billion, yes, 15 billion board feet of timber ($750 million worth - 1962)
* Total property damage in the region $235 million
* Recorded wind speeds (before power went out):
    Naselle: Gust to 150 MPH
    Bellingham and Vancouver: Gust 92 MPH
    Renton: Gust 100 MPH
    Morrison St Bridge: Gust 116 MPH
    Tacoma: Gust 88 MPH
    Troutdale: Gust to 106 MPH
    Mt Hebo: Gust to 131 MPH

Honorable Mentions:

May 31, 1997 - Severe Weather/Tornado Outbreak
* A record six tornados touched down in Washington in one day
* Former record was 4 tornados in 1989 for the entire year
* Four F1 tornados hit Stevens and Spokane counties in northeast Washington
* Two F0 tornados touched down in western Washington - Vancouver and Tacoma
* An F1 tornado also struck Athol and an F0 was observed near Lewiston in Idaho
* In addition, severe thunderstorms produced large hail up to 2 to 3 inches in diameter, heavy rain and flash flooding, and wind gust to near 80 mph
* No deaths or injuries reported
* Washington had a record 14 tornados reported in the state for the year

January 20, 1993 - The Inauguration Day Wind Storm
* Claimed 5 lives, 3/4 million homes and businesses without power
* Total damage in western Washington, $130 million
* Winds in Puget Sound area - gusts 60-70 MPH
* Cape Disappointment - gust to 98 MPH

November 19,1996 - Spokane Area Ice Storm
* Up to a half inch of ice deposited or accreted on trees, vehicles, buildings, etc., across much of the populated areas of Spokane and Kootenai counties
* Over 100,00 homes and businesses lost power, some people without power for up to 14 days
* Damage estimated at over 22 million dollars and 4 fatalities

1976-77 - Worst Drought in Pacific Northwest history
* Crop yields well way below normal
* Region wide water rationing and power consumption restrictions
* Area ski resorts were closed for much of the 76-77 ski season
* Significant economic impacts throughout from this event

October 16, 1991 - Spokane Area Urban Interface Wildfire
* Strong winds combined with very dry conditions
* Multiple fires started by downed power lines and other sources
* 2 lives were lost, 100 homes were damaged or destroyed

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