High winds blow; smoke chokes outer East Portland

What started with a blistering windstorm that brought down trees and power lines, gave way to hazardous, dense wildfire smoke. A meteorologist, based in Parkrose, talks about our weird weather …

After trees fall during a powerful windstorm, knocking down power lines all across outer East Portland, the crew riding Portland Fire & Rescue Lents Station Engine 11 keep busy blocking off streets – this one, in the Lents neighborhood.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

September was quite the month for weather. A steamy-hot start, with 95° temperatures on September 3, gave way to a tree-toppling and quite unprecedented summer windstorm on September 7, which, in turn, gave way to choking wildfire smoke by September 9 which hung around for a week.

Venturing out during the windstorm and smoke, we captured images of our unusual weather conditions.

Working inside the National Weather Service building, in the Parkrose neighborhood, meteorologists track the unusual weather.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Will Ahue talked about the astounding weather we’ve seen with East Portland News.

“September started out warm until an anomalous strong east wind event on September 7, more like what we’d expect to see during the winter months, caused by a frontal system that pushed down through the Rocky Mountains and into the metro area,” Ahue began.

The Weather Bureau called it a very rare “maybe twice in a century” event.

High winds knock trees into power lines, causing some poles, like this one, to snap like a twig.

“The high pressure gradient west of us, with warm temperatures over us, combined with a much cooler frontal system coming down east of the Rockies, and drove the strong east wind event here, and along much of the West Coast,” he explained.

Portland International Airport recorded gusts as high as of 52 mph.

In addition to blowing over and damaging trees and damaging roof shingles, electrical power was out in several of outer East Portland’s neighborhoods, from Pleasant Valley, north to Wilkes.

PGE crews busily work to restore power knocked out by the intense and very unseasonal windstorm.

Smoke blows in, and stays
Before the wind event, several wildfires were burning, and they were fanned by the winds sweeping over the state. “The strong winds to spread the smoke toward the Willamette Valley; but then, at least at first, east winds pushed a great deal of the smoke hundreds of miles off shore, out to sea,” explained Ahue.

In the very thick smoke, it was difficult to see the iconic “Division Center” tower in the Midway Business District.

As the east winds died down, all of that dense smoke came rushing onshore, over the Pacific Coast Ridge, and back into the Portland area. “Since then, there hasn’t been much wind, and we’ve been getting some smoke up from California wildfires, as well,” pointed out Ahue.

The dense smoke did end the nearly unprecedented summertime heat wave in our area, he noted.

It’s difficult to see ahead for more than a block, here in the Gateway district, along SE Stark Street.

“The first rain system we expected in our area got backed up in a northerly flow, clipped Oregon’s waters offshore, and ended up coming on land in far NW Washington; so, we missed most of it,” Ahue said, adding that by September 17, he expected a storm system off shore brought significant showers, clearing the air.

Early on September 18, thunderstorms rolled in the area overnight, dumping about a .5” of rain in the East Portland News weather station, dropping the Air Quality Index from the mid 400s, down to as low as 125 later that day. It’s still considered “Unhealthy”, but greatly reduced from “Extremely Hazardous”.

It will be interesting to see what kind of weather will come our way, as we close out 2020.

© 2020 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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