Deadly crashes, mass power outages reported as atmospheric river brings flooding and strong winds to Oregon and Washington

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An atmospheric river brought monster waves, high tides and strong winds to batter western Oregon and Washington. The weather led to fatal crashes, power outages and flooded homes on Tuesday. 

Although conditions in western Oregon became less intense on Wednesday, forecasters warned that the respite would likely be short-lived, as another storm system made its way south from Alaska, according to the National Weather Service. A coastal flood warning will remain active for parts of Washington state until 1 p.m. PT, the agency said.

As wind gusts as strong as 45 mph blew through Portland on Tuesday, Oregon State Police said multiple people died when their car hit a tree on U.S. 26 east of Cannon Beach, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Investigators are determining whether the tree fell on the road before the car hit it or if the tree crushed the vehicle when it fell, police said. The exact number of people killed wasn’t immediately known.

Another motorist was killed when a tree fell and struck their vehicle while driving farther east on U.S. 26, KATU reported, citing Oregon State Police. More than 50 miles of the highway was shut down because of that crash, downed trees and high winds — from Rhododendron to Warm Springs, state transportation officials said.

Portland General, the city’s largest electricity provider, acknowledged storm damage to local power lines and said its crews were working to restore power as quickly as possible in a tweet posted on Tuesday night.

“All downed and sagging power lines are dangerous, please stay away from them. Our crews are working as quickly as safety allows through these conditions to get power back up and running,” the company wrote on Twitter, marking its most recent update on the response to storm damage.

In Washington, high tides known as king tides and heavy rains caused water to spill into more than a dozen homes in Seattle‘s South Park neighborhood, The Seattle Times reported.

Reasmey Choun, who lives on the ground level of a two-story home in the neighborhood, woke up before 8 a.m. to the sound of water coming inside. Within an hour, it had settled above the doorknob of the front door.

Choun, her mother, niece and dog escaped through a window wearing robes and slippers, and got into her mother’s SUV that was parked on higher ground.

Choun went back inside to grab her laptop for work, but everything else — the carpet, the furniture, her birth certificate — was submerged or floating.

“We lost everything,” Choun said.

Stormy conditions gripped the Pacific Northwest and Northern California as other parts of the nation are reeling from a ferocious winter storm that killed dozens.

Winter Weather Oregon
A homeless man who spent the night outside in temperatures that dipped into the single digits attempts to find shelter from the frigid cold on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022, in Portland, Oregon.

Gillian Flaccus / AP

Thirty-foot waves were expected to break along the entire Oregon coast on Tuesday, the National Weather Service said, with wave heights possibly topping 40 feet on the north coast.

“In situations like this, we recommend that people stay off the beach entirely,” said Brian Nieuwenhuis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Medford office. “I’d be very concerned about anybody going out on the beach and very concerned about any infrastructure located close to the surf zone.”

A hazardous seas warning remained in effect for portions of coastal northern Oregon as well as southern Washington on Wednesday, and was expected to expire in the early afternoon, according to an advisory issued by the National Weather Service in Portland. 

The warning noted “very steep and hazardous seas” creating waves between 12 and 17 feet, as well as strong southwestern winds. Potentially dangerous wind gusts in the same areas are expected to continue throughout the week, and a small craft advisory and gale warning are expected to take effect later on Wednesday and early Thursday, respectively.

On Tuesday afternoon, Oregon led the country as the state with the highest number of reported power outages — with more than 160,000 customers affected — according to online tracker PowerOutage. Along Oregon’s north coast, winds hit 80 mph. In the Portland metro area, wind gusts of 60 mph downed powered lines and felled trees, including near the Portland Art Museum downtown.

Compared to other utility companies, Portland General Electric reported the most outages, with more than 115,000 customers affected as of 3 p.m.

“These winds are blowing debris into our lines, taking down trees and damaging high-voltage transmission lines,” Dale Goodman, PGE director of utility operations, said in a statement. “The sustained winds make it challenging for crews to safely work in bucket trucks and on high wires.”

He said even with more than 600 personnel and contract crews, and with additional crews headed to help from California, Idaho and Washington, it will take time to assess damage, repair and restore power because of the extent of the damage and the winds.

Utility company Pacific Power said that over 250 field and support personnel, also including service crews from out of state, were assessing and repairing damage.

By Wednesday, roughly 65,000 customers were still without power in Oregon, according to the PowerOutage tracker’s latest data. More than 21,000 additional customers did not have power in Washington, the tracker showed.

Coastal flooding and high wind advisories established earlier this week were in effect for much of western Washington state on Wednesday, with “significant coastal flooding expected” in the regions surrounding Seattle and Tacoma, the National Weather Service said.

“Numerous roads may be closed,” the agency wrote in an advisory issued Wednesday morning. “Low lying property including homes, businesses, and some critical infrastructure will be inundated. Some shoreline erosion will occur.”

The National Weather Service bureau in Seattle said on Twitter that annual rainfall in the area this year officially surpassed the usual yearly total — by a fraction of an inch — after the recent flood. Forecasters warned of the potential for additional flooding around the Puget Sound on Wednesday, although they noted that weather conditions will likely be milder in the days to come than they were on Tuesday.

“With 0.27″ at @flySEA [Seattle-Tacoma International Airport] Tuesday the yearly rainfall total is 39.52″ surpassing the yearly normal rainfall for Seattle which is 39.34″,” wrote NWS Seattle in a tweet shared early Wednesday morning. 

“More flooding around the Puget Sound this morning around the time of high tide but not nearly as bad as Tuesday,” the bureau’s tweet continued, adding that they expect to see “calmer weather for the next week.”

A record high tide of 18.4 feet submerged parts of the state capital of Olympia on Tuesday, sweeping marine life into the city’s streets, officials said.

“Jellyfish washed over the shoreline and into our streets,” said Olympia Water Resources Director Eric Christensen. “There was a woman who was kind enough to rescue them and put them back into Budd Inlet.”

Other areas around Puget Sound also saw flooding, which trapped cars and impacted buildings.

Tens of thousands of people in western Washington also were affected by power outages Tuesday afternoon, according to PowerOutage.

The weather conditions also forced the full or partial closure of several Oregon state parks at a time when whale watchers and holiday tourists typically flock to the coast.

Oregon State Parks announced emergency closures for Ecola and Cape Meares because of high winds and the potential for falling trees. The day-use area at Sunset Bay State Park near Coos Bay was closed because of extreme high tides and flooding.

Cape Meares is one of 17 sites hosting Oregon’s Whale Watch Week, which is returning in-person this year for the first time since the pandemic. During the event, which starts Wednesday and lasts through Sunday, volunteers help visitors spot gray whales during their annual migration south.

The park anticipates reopening on Wednesday, but people are advised to visit later in the week if possible, said Oregon State Parks spokesperson Stefanie Knowlton.

Article Source: Mid-Columbia Insurance Agency