LONG BEACH — The Washington coast faces a storm of historic proportions this Saturday, a top University of Washington meteorologist warns.
Subject to usual caveats about the weather still being some time off, giving it time to change course or diminish, the remains of Super Typhoon Songda are expected Saturday to reach a strength of 955 mb atmospheric pressure. This is “the same as the extreme Columbus Day Storm” of 1962, UW Professor Cliff Mass said Tuesday.
Calling it “a true monster storm,” Mass expects sustained winds over 55 knots or 63 mph on Saturday and an “amazing plume of moisture ... Never saw anything like this.”
To put the approaching storm in context, the infamous Columbus Day Storm resulted in 46 deaths and 317 hospitalizations in Washington and Oregon, 53,000 damaged homes and economic losses of at least $250 million. and 15 billion board feet of blowdown.
“By all accounts,” Mass wrote in his 2008 book, “the Columbus Day Storm was the most damaging windstorm to srike the Pacific Northwest since the arrival of European settlers. It my, in fact, be the most powerful nontropical storm to strike the continental United States during the past century.”
The approaching storm for this weekend, the third of three major weather systems including a cyclone that will begin impacting the coast on Thursday, “is not only nearly as intense as the 1962 Columbus Day storm but shares a common origin: both started as typhoons over the western Pacific. The Columbus Day Storm had its origin as Typhoon Frieda, taking over a week to get across the Pacific.
“Our Saturday storm started as Typhoon Songda, which is now moving towards us as it transforms into an extratropical (midlatitude) storm. Both of these storms retained some of their tropical ‘juice’” with lots of moisture and tight, strong low pressure centers,” Mass said.
The Saturday storm currently is tracking somewhat to the north, which may spare Washington outer coast and Puget Sound from the full brunt of its impacts. However, Mass writes, “there is still considerable uncertainty regarding the storm’s trajectory and intensity. The could shift north or south, with major impacts on who gets the big winds. Consider that we are forecasting a storm that has to travel across the entire Pacific; a hundred mile error in track greatly alters who gets strong winds. But have your storm kits ready and keep track of the forecasts.”