Sudden storm wreaks havoc across East Portland

This fierce, fast-moving storm tore up tents at the Parkrose Farmer’s Market, and downed trees in SE Portland. See it all, right here …

After the sudden tempest caught this tent – as folks were closing down the Parkrose Farmer’s Market for the day – this tangled, bent frame was all that remained. Steve Voorhees photo

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The fast-moving thunderstorm that whipped up high, destructive winds and pelted the area with rain and hail during the late afternoon of Saturday, May 2, is now but a memory – but it will linger in the minds of many who were affected.

Parkrose Farmer’s Market tents damaged
Steve Voorhees, the market master of Parkrose Farmer’s Market, said the storm was a frightening experience for him and his family. The storm blew through just after they’d removed the weights from the tents and were starting to pack them, he said.

“A twister touched down for about 20 seconds in the Parkrose High School parking lot about 4:00 pm,” Voorhees told us. “My daughter, Molly, was thrown about 50 feet, while my son David held on to ‘the blimp’, standing under the Parkrose Middle School awning entrance.”

One of his son’s friends dove for cover under the family pickup truck, he added. “We lost three tents and a bunch of papers,” Voorhees added. “It comes as a kind of a blow; especially on our first day of the season.”

Wind whips trees into high-voltage line

High above the uprooted tree on SE 70th Avenue, a high-voltage line insulator dangled after the tall fir whipped into the line and broke it free.

Miles away, in Southeast Portland, the gusting wind uprooted a tree on SE 70th Avenue, between SE Harold and SE Mitchell streets.

“The real damage came from the tall tree behind it,” pointed out a crewmember on Portland Fire & Rescue’s Truck 25, who was standing by. “The tree, whipped by the wind, snapped into the high-voltage line, and broke off the top insulator.”

Officials were concerned that this high voltage line, no longer supported by the insulator, would drop into the street.

Neighbors reported a flash of light and a shower of sparks, as the wet limbs of the tree temporarily shorted out the power line. Police and firefighters stood guard until Portland General Electric crews could repair the line.

Storm brings down an Eastmoreland elm

After standing the test of time for decades, this stately Eastmoreland elm tree was uprooted by the microburst that rolled through the area.

In inner SE Portland, one of Eastmoreland’s legendary elms toppled on SE 36th Avenue at SE Ogden Street.

Homeowner Sherri Romaniello looked in stunned amazement at the giant tree that once stood majestically at her curb, now uprooted and leaning into the street. “I’ve lived here for over 40 years,” she said. “I think they put in the trees when they built the houses in 1935.”

Homeowner Sherri Romaniello said she is surprised that the tree that stood in front of her home for more than 40 years was blown over.

The event made a lot of noise, Romaniello, recalled. “But more than that, I saw a big bolt of what looked like lightning. I was in the back of the house. The whole sky lit up outside of the window. Then the power went out.”

Her first instinct was to go look out her front door. “It was hard to believe what I was seeing. At least, it didn’t hurt anyone as it fell – and it didn’t land on any houses or cars.”

The impact of the falling tree pulled Romaniello’s electric service drop line off the top of her home’s meter head. “Fortunately I have gas, so, at the least, I can warm some water on the stove,” she said.

The delightful spring weather that followed the fast-moving, unforecast storm brought out spectators who stroll through the streets of Eastmoreland, looking at the storm damage.

Meteorologist attributes damage to microbursts
It was not too late in the season to have a “cold air trough” meet a mass of warm behind it, explained National Weather Service meteorologist Tiffani Brown, when we asked about the storm.

“When we see a cold air trough – with warm air behind it – the situation causes instability of the atmosphere,” Brown noted. “We do see these weather conditions, especially during the spring when there is some daytime warming, and have a strong weather cold system in the area; this tends to develop thunderstorm activity.

Brown concluded that the damaging winds could be caused by a “microburst” or “downburst”. “A downburst occurs when fast-moving air is trapped above the storm and has nowhere to go. When it finds a weak spot through which to move downward, it does so with wind speeds measuring 50 to 60 mph.”

The weather station at the offices of THE BEE newspaper in Westmoreland, the rain gauge – observed just after the storm – measured .93 inch for the day.

As to whether or not we can expect more violent storms, Brown commented, “This is the time of year when we most expect these kinds of storms to occur.”

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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