LONG BEACH - After first appearing to weaken somewhat Friday night, a massive Northern Pacific storm is on track to hit Pacific County and the North Oregon coast with hurricane-force winds starting Sunday night.
This monstrous weather system prompted the National Weather Service in Portland to issue its first-ever hurricane warning for the Pacific Northwest. In a warning issued at 2:48 p.m. Saturday, the NWS said that the storm will build in intensity through the remainder of the weekend and into Monday.
Sustained winds of 80 mph are predicted during the night Sunday, with gusts to 90 mph. The storm is expected to get even worse Monday morning.
These winds will result in combined seas in near-shore waters of up to 45 feet, waves nearly as high as a five-story building. Such waves have the potential of damaging ships at sea and could result in significant coastal erosion. The Lower Columbia crab fleet will be stuck in port for the duration, cutting into the start of what has promised to be a profitable season.
Storm-force winds are predicted to hit the coast starting late Saturday night, continuing into Sunday. Sustained winds of 60 mph or greater are possible. Winds are predicted to slacken somewhat Sunday evening, before quickly rebuilding to hurricane strength during the night.
The wind speeds that are currently anticipated would qualify as a category one hurricane. According to the National Weather Service, this would cause "No real damage to building structures. Damage primarily to unanchored mobile homes, shrubbery, and trees." (In contrast, the famous Columbus Day Storm of 1962 brought category four winds of 150 mph, taking 46 lives.)
In our heavily forested region, a storm of category one intensity will likely mean extensive power outages. Residents are advised to stock up on necessary supplies, such as foods that do not require heating. The elderly should make sure to have warm clothing and blankets on hand in case of a protracted outage, in addition to ideally having access to dependable heating sources that are not dependent upon electricity.
Residents in unsecured mobile homes should consider seeking shelter elsewhere for the duration of the storm. Everyone should stay of the beach for the duration.
Bad news for crabbers
Sustained hurricane-force winds will make for extremely hazardous conditions on the ocean, from which Lower Columbia crabbers will begin hauling the first pots of the season on Saturday. The Columbia bar was closed to all ship traffic during the Veterans Day storm, and a similar decision is quite possible this time, too.
Since 1999, more fishermen have died in the Northwest Dungeness crab fishery than in the Bering Sea crab fleet glorified in the TV series "The Deadliest Catch." Storms like this one are a key contributing factor in local crabber fatalities.
Avoid the beach during the storm, as high waves and storm-tossed debris could make for deadly conditions.
Heavy rain and localized flooding also are possible beginning Sunday, particularly on the Grays River in Wahkiakum County. Several inches of precipitation are possible in some areas.
Exercise extreme caution on area highways and do not attempt to cross flooded sections of the roadway unless advised it is safe to do so by emergency personnel. Portions of Washington State Route 4 between Naselle and Longview often flood during wintertime heavy rain/high-tide events.
Stay off roads as much as possible so emergency responders and utility crews can to do their jobs. Parents should listen for radio updates Monday about whether schools are open. Do not call 911 unless there is a life-threatening emergency.
Weather Service advisory
According to the National Weather Service:
"High wind watch now in effect from late Saturday night through Monday evening for the south Washington coast.
"A very strong low pressure area will move across the Northeast Pacific later this weekend. This will bring a very strong warm front across the region Sunday, followed by a cold front late Monday afternoon.
"South winds of 25 to 40 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph are expected to develop Sunday morning along the coast. However, winds will increase Sunday afternoon and remain strong Sunday night and Monday. Sustained south winds of 45 to 60 mph, with gusts of 80 to 100 mph are possible, with the strongest winds expected on the headlands and exposed beaches of the Oregon Coast.
"Winds will ease Monday evening as the cold front moves onshore.
"A high wind watch means there is the potential for a hazardous high wind event. Sustained winds of at least 40 mph or gusts of 58 mph or stronger may occur. Continue to monitor the latest forecasts.
Storm survival advice
During the storm, the Washington Emergency Management Division advises:
? Turn off the stove if you're cooking when the power goes out, and turn off propane appliances.
? Have emergency food and lighting supplies on hand, along with blankets and warm clothing.
? If you are indoors, stay away from windows and objects that could fall. Go to lower floors in multi-story buildings.
? If outdoors, move into a building. Avoid downed power lines, utility poles and trees.
? Stay off the streets if possible to remain safe and permit emergency personnel to operate without interference.
? Listen to NOAA weather radio for updates and emergency information.
? Call 911 only to report a life-threatening emergency.
? If the power goes out, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed to keep food frozen for up to two days.
? Provide assistance to your neighbors, especially the elderly or disabled.
? Use only approved safe heating devices indoors.