ILWACO — The Portland National Weather Service office has confirmed that a tornado did touch down in the Vandalia neighborhood of Ilwaco late in the evening on March 19. The tornado came on the heels of an extraordinarily active weather pattern along the Washington coastline where special marine statements were issued for possible waterspouts, and tornado warnings near the Olympic Peninsula towns of Kalaloch and La Push.
“Yesterday, we had a lot of active storm cells off the coast, just pretty strong showers that were brushing along the coast,” NWS Meteorologist Shawn Weagle said. “One of them got a bit of rotation with it as it started to move inland. So basically it got just enough spin at the right time where you ended up with a weak tornado.”
It didn’t seem weak to those in its path. “He said it sounded like a freight train hit the side of his house,” according to a witness statement to the police officer who responded to the call at 8:24 p.m. Saturday. “All the neighbors there said that no one was hurt and they were helping each other to board up broken windows. … There was a fence that was torn up and a metal awning that had been torn off of a house. Multiple windows had been broken including the rear driver-side window on a pickup truck.” At least four homes were damaged during the storm.
The NWS sends a team to the location of any suspected tornado touchdowns to investigate the damage and determine its strength using the enhanced Fujita scale, which involves surveying the damage. The team arrived in the area around 8 a.m. March 20 and concluded that a low-intensity EF-0 tornado touched down at the intersection of Redwing Way and Captain Gray Drive.
“It was a very brief tornado, as they often are when they affect us,” Weagle said. “It lifted back up off the ground right near Chinook Valley Road and [U.S. Highway 101]. We estimate that the maximum gusts with it were about 65 mph.”
It has been about three decades since the last confirmed tornado in Pacific County on June 13, 1991, which touched down near Megler and was rated as an F-0. The year before, on Dec. 1, 1990, a tornado touched down in South Bend.
“I would be willing to bet there has been weak tornadoes in that time period [but] just affecting rural areas, and nobody sees them,” Weagle said. “But this one actually touched down in a neighborhood. The damage definitely looked tornadic, albeit a weak tornado.”
While tornadoes are relatively scary to hear about, Pacific County Emergency Management Agency Director Scott McDougall, who has followed the incident closely, mentions that the weak storm’s strength is something fairly common to be seen along the coast, just without it being a rotational storm cell.
“I think that one thing that’s real important to remember is that we don’t usually see tornadoes here at all, and obviously this was a tornado,” McDougall said. “I want people to understand that this was something that had 60 to 65 mph winds. Even though the tornado part of it is really a scary term, we also know that we had some straight-line winds up and down the length of the peninsula, and those potentially were just as damaging as the tornado was. I think the tornado becomes more intense because the winds swirl, and it did do some damage clearly.”
“I don’t want to take anything away from the people who suffer damage because of this, and I don’t want to take anything away from the scariness of it, but this is something in a lot of ways [that’s] very similar to what we normally see. A lot of times, we get those gusty winds, and this just so happened to have sustained winds,” McDougall added.