Posts Tagged ‘Coastal Storms’

We’ve had two whopper storms to kick off the winter rainy season.

The first, October 25, brought sheeting rain, unbelievable wind and waves. The Port of Port Orford, which we visited in the morning, had, by afternoon, sustained heavy damage, in the end estimated at over $1 million.

The Port 10/25 courtesy of Melissa Campbell

The Port 10/25
courtesy of Melissa Campbell

No people or fishing vessels were lost but a fish processing building went over the edge taking numerous fish storage tanks along, the Port office had 18” of water, waves topped the rock jetty damaging it, and one side of Griff’s, a seafood restaurant on the dock, was pushed out.

Griff's, two days later

Griff’s, two days later

Port, 10/28

Port, 10/28

The surf was amazing, totally covering the port beach and the wind was so strong our 10-year-old grandson had to run to stay in place at the overlook. The pelicans and seagulls came onshore en masse and hunkered down to wait it out on the headlands.



Gulls and Pelicans

Gulls and Pelicans

The second storm, which hit Port Orford Friday managed to tip over half a trailer home on Highway 101 just where it enters Port Orford from the south. (I guess those high profile vehicle warnings on the weather went unheard or were ignored. They were predicting 70 mph gusts!) The wind and rain was hard enough to wake me up Friday night but by Saturday all was just a passing memory.

Today, the sun is shining. And the streets are dry. No one can say the weather around here isn’t dramatic.

blown over trailer house

blown over trailer house

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In mid-September an early autumn storm loaded with copious moisture from a Pacific typhoon roared over the Oregon Coast. Rain was heavy, five to ten inches, with 70 mph winds on the capes, dangerous seas worthy of Winslow Homer, and 23′ breakers.

Often the most impressive displays of oceanic fury follow shortly after Pacific storms move eastward. As the cold front passed, we headed for Shore Acres State Park, near Coos Bay. Shore Acres is the place for storm watchers on the south and central Oregon Coast, and that is our destination, our pilgrimage to see the salty essence of oceanic power.

At the park, a trail leads through sitka spruce towards the grassy cliff and to numerous viewing angles. We first hear the bombardment, water thundering shoreward before reaching the cliff. A few steps further, and we see a great plume of water climbing 50′ vertically, rising almost to the cliff top in a powerful crescendo, until gravity brings down a  frothy white plume that splashes the roiling surf below and coats my camera lens with salt spray.

The surf  for a few moments is quiet. A momentary lull. But a new wave of big breakers then rolls in from the deep ocean, breaking near shore or against the cliffs, one after another, five or ten in a row, roaring like a cannonade, reverberating across the headlands, only finally muffled by the silence of the deep forest.

My photographs taken that day give only a few dimensions of the reality. The camera clicked and clicked, slowing as the computer tried to process so much intense light. Many wave pictures are now taken with a slow shutter, thus blurring and smoothing what is really wild and chaotic action. The fast shutter of these pictures emphasizes that wildness and chaos. But it’s the viewer who must anticipate the almost terrifying audible dimension of crashing water, the taste of salt spray, the smell of brine and damp forest, in fact all the senses and emotions when confronting such spellbinding nature as a Pacific storm. A photograph can only suggest.  SRE



all images © SR Euston

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Last Saturday here in Port Orford we had the first winter storm of the year…on September 28 and 29.

With hazardous sea and high surf warnings (up to 24 foot breakers) we brought in the plastic lawn chairs and checked the windows and gutters. Sheltered behind the hill to our south, we watched the windswept pines flail and the rain come down in sheets.

Port Orford hoist courtesy of enjoyportorford.com

Port Orford hoist
courtesy of enjoyportorford.com

On Sunday afternoon  we decided to venture out to the port overlook to take a look. There next to the “dolly dock” (where giant hoists lift and lower boats in and out of the water, one of only two in the US) the big story of the first storm was unfolding.

Star of Siam photo provided by Emma Jones

Star of Siam
photo provided by Emma Jones

Bobbing in the port’s open water but jetty-protected harbor, a sail boat appeared to be almost foundering, not quite flipped totally by the successive waves of breakers. Later it was reported the ship was on a run from San Diego to the Columbia River, had run low on fuel, headed into port and decided to weather out the storm there. Although we couldn’t see them, the boat was anchored and, in an attempt to keep it straight, was also attached by ropes to the jetty. The crew of two had left the vessel Saturday night via inflatable raft which was hoisted by crane to safety.

The Star of Siam was not so lucky. Late Saturday night the 36 foot boat had broken its rudder at low tide. The ship managed to stay afloat until 6:00 pm Sunday night when a combination of weather and current changes caused the sailing ship to break its ties and drift toward shore where it went aground on the jetty rocks below the port office.

We got 3.62” of rain according to the gauge near the beach. Wind gusts of 64 mph were reported at Cape Blanco to the north. Many other Oregon locales reported record September rainfall. Most impressive was Astoria’s record-breaker, 10.25 inches, remarkably up from September’s average 2.14 inches and significantly beating out its previous 1906 September record of 8.66 inches.

Star of Siam photo provided by Emma Jones

Star of Siam
photo provided by Emma Jones

Here in Port Orford by Tuesday afternoon all remnants of the Star were gone, hauled away by a local contractor. And the sky and the ocean are again beautiful, calm, serenely blue.

Port of Port Orford circa 1910 courtesy of earth-sea imagery

Port of Port Orford circa 1910
courtesy of earth-sea imagery

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After weeks of unusual mostly dry weather, winter rain finally arrived on the Southern Oregon Coast. Storms began to roll in last week and by Tuesday, a day we had to travel north, rain began to fall in earnest.

Thursday, Port © AME

Wednesday weather’s was a nightmare forecast—slashing rain, storm force winds with gusts to 100 mph (!) at Cape Blanco, worst where we would heading—into a south wind down oceanside US 101. Areas of particular concern? Ours: Bandon, Port Orford and Gold Beach. The national weather service’s computerized robovoice warned: Don’t drive, Watch for road debris, Stay off area beaches (high surf, 25+ foot breakers) and jetties. Oh and BTW, surfing and swimming not recommended. (No joke, the computer said that too.)

Flooded Dunes © AME

Taking a chance, we returned. And yes, there were gale force winds on US 101. At Reedsport, we saw half a trailer house in transit, blown over on its side off the road, plastic sheeting waving, tires in the air. By the Sixes River valley the rain was sheeting toward the car as we headed directly into the wind. Cresting the next hill (at the Cape Blanco turnoff) it wasn’t at all hard to imagine 100 mph gusts just six miles west. Entering Port Orford, the Hazardous Winds Next 27 Miles if Flashing sign’s lights were definitely blinking. Stan couldn’t feel his hands for clutching the steering wheel.

Griffs Sandbagged © AME

We headed directly to the port to see if the parking lot was underwater, another of the worst-case predictions. Nope, but all was dark and quiet. Turns out all the dock businesses had sandbagged and left, literally turning off the lights (the electricity had been disconnected) behind them.

Once home, the County Sheriff’s Wednesday morning robomessage phone alert (a first) underscored the storm’s potential. All told we got close to nine inches of rain, over seven of it Wednesday.

Today, we hit the beach to view another high surf event, 25-30 foot breakers. Right now it’s sunny. But we’re just between the acts. We’re supposed to get rain for the next seven days.

It’s beginning to look like winter in Oregon.

Thursday Mists at the Port © AME

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2011 was a banner year for the Southern Oregon Coast natural history lovers. We had rain (naturally), snow, a tsunami, a threat to one of our most treasured natural areas (stopped by citizen action!), a profusion of wildflowers beginning in March with trillium and skunk cabbage, followed by iris and  tangles of sweet peas and ending in fall in a burst of asters, a brilliant Fourth of July, blue skies and wind throughout summer, a delightful fall and a dry start to winter. We ended the year 21 inches behind in rainfall!

Take a look at our glorious coast as it looked across the seasons. Happy New Year!

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Throughout this week, I’ve looked with horrified sadness at the photos of a devastated, dazed and bewildered Japan—the aerial shots of broken villages, smashed ships, colorful pick-up-sticks of merchandise containers swept on top of one another by the tsunami. I’ve studied stark stills of an old woman being carried on some young guy’s back, a line of stolid face-mask wearers patiently waiting to being scanned for radiation, firefighters hosing down a potential nuclear meltdown, a father holding his once-was-lost and now just-found-alive three month old.  I’m moved by both their unfathomable loss and their sturdy resourcefulness in dealing with two natural disasters and multiple nuclear power plant potential catastrophes simultaneously. As our cousin Elaine, who taught there, commented in an e-mail: “Each day as the news grows worse and worse about Japan, I remain absolutely incredulous at the devastation, and yet, the civility of the people is so very admirable — not even any evidence of looting, despite the deprivation.”

Meanwhile on our side of the Pacific, mundane daily life has resumed. But tsunamis are no longer some mere melodramatic “what if?” Our house lot’s east side forms the farthest inland edge of the map of the worst-case nearshore-earthquake-followed-by-tsunami flood like Sendai, Japan experienced last week. In the past we’ve joked if we just went upstairs we’d come out fine. After last week’s events, it’s not quite so funny anymore.

Tsunami Evacuation Map: Port Orford (courtesy of Oregon.gov)

Nor is it true. As the emergency management folks have pointed out, if the worst did happen, not only would our sewer be knocked out (the treatment plant is just behind barrier dunes), so too, most likely, would be our water, our electric, our phone. It’s also possible the earthquake would cause our house to slide much lower and closer to the beach. Suppose we were to emerge intact: Planners suggest we should have stockpiles of water enough for a month (that’s at least 200 gallons for us and our pets) as well as food, medicine and fuel. We just don’t have the means to secure, much less store, all that.

But if we evacuated, I know, at least at present, there is nothing stored at the high ground places we’re supposed to evacuate to in Port Orford. I doubt there will be soon. Being prepared requires cash. Right now our country seems fixated on supposedly not having any. At least for public needs.

So what if what happened in Japan happened here? Quite honestly, I don’t know. And that’s a very scary thought.

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A few days ago, Oregon coast folks skidded on slippery roads and snapped lots of pictures. A once-in-five-years snow storm blew in from the Pacific.  A couple of inches, on that boundary between slush and real snow.  A few years ago, in Albuquerque, beautiful clouds foretold a winter storm. A few inches of drier snow covered our neighborhood, the thermometer was lower, enough to cover an agave for a day or so.  Midwesterners and Northeasterners will find all this amusing, I’m sure. SRE

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Thursday morning at Battle Rock City Park—overlooking the Pacific, the harbor jetty and the crescent beach—Clara’s ears served as our own personal weather vane. As she faced into the south wind, not only were her ears flattened to her head and pointing due north, her fur was too.

Clara in the Wind © SR Euston

The forecast for Port Orford was for gale force winds. Another winter storm was on its way. What that means is around town we lean into the wind as we walk, and hold tight to our steering wheels as we drive. The surf zone becomes a white frothy mass, the waves noticably steeper.

Gray Day © SR Euston

Gale force winds, while not exactly the norm, are an accepted part of life around here. From October through April, winter storms barrel up our edge of the continent from the south—bringing high winds, high surf, and all that rain for which we are so rightly famous. Come May the winds swing north but remain strong. As our friend Joyce observes, “they’ll blow the potato salad right off your plate.” Obviously we picnic in protected southern yards.

Still, most folks around here seem delighted by all this wind. In fact, by our weather in general. Sometimes it seems one of Port Orford’s biggest bragging points.

Ninety-mile-per-hour gusts? Aww, to local raconteurs, that’s hardly a breeze.  Many will tell you just six miles north at Cape Blanco, the lighthouse’s anemometer was broken at 184 mph by a wind gust. Cape Arago, another headland about 40 miles farther up the coast, is in the “top ten windiest” record holders.

But the rain doesn’t always rain and the wind doesn’t always blow. Maybe the biggest weather surprise here is that there are so many days, both winter and summer, when the sky is clear, the air is mild, the wind is still, the sea and lake are placid bath tubs.

So here’s what I know about windy days: They’re not the whole story. Just another ingredient in the wonderful, wild mixture that is the weather here in our new home by the sea.

Clara agrees. She seems to be smiling as her ears blow north.

Out of the Wind © SR Euston

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New Mexico Skies © SR Euston

In extreme northwest Victoria, Australia, where the outback begins, lies a dry eucalyptus land called Sunset Country. I have never seen this place, but the name itself is its own reward.  Imagine—the evocation of the mere word sunset. What comes to mind?  Of course dazzling reds and oranges, reflected in the water or across desert rocks or through the trees.

When we say sunset, it is always with this anticipation of color. For most, the more color the better. Pink, rose, mauve, purple, magenta, orange, silver, gold, copper. But in photographing sunsets, the boundaries of artistic license, it seems to me, are pretty narrow. Brilliant red can turn into the garish commonplace; evanescent rose can look washed out.

The problem with sunsets in the early days of color photography was the color itself. Sunsets could look horribly fake. But with Kodachrome, things changed. Does anyone old enough to have a Kodachrome slide collection not have multiple shots of a sunset over this or that famous landmark? The color’s the thing and the only thing. It was satisfying to end your slide show for friends with a fantastic sunset, maybe with a nice silhouetted tree.

Oregon Coast 4:45 PM © SR Euston

When color prints became common, sunsets presented different problems. Compared to the brilliance of Kodachrome slides, or now the digital monitor, sunsets printed even on the best photographic paper don’t often have élan. They lack everything except  the color red. That is, if the photographer (with new digital tools especially) hasn’t fiddled with the spectrum, color value, saturation and hue. And in my view upping the ante on color is exactly what many professional landscape photographers have done. I admit to a deep prejudice against what I think of as garish obvious sunset pictures in millions of calendars and magazines.

Sunset Reflection on Wall © SR Euston

The following pictures, by the way, are not products of photoshop miracles, though there is what I think of as reasonable digital darkroom editing. But as I rail about the garish, looking at these photos on the monitor gives me a slight tinge. Can these colors be real?  SRE

One Minute of Purple Ocean © SR Euston



Cold Front Passing, Oregon© SR Euston

Green River, Utah in Repose © SR Euston


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After having visited  the southern Oregon Coast for the last five winters, we were fairly sure there was little weather-wise that would  surprise or depress us.  OK, so the University of Oregon’s mascot isn’t the duck by accident. And yes, we’re glad we brought our waterproof gear.

But whatever has been surprising after two months at our new home has not be boring or routine in the least. Maybe that’s only to be expected, going from eight inches of rain annually in Albuquerque to an average of 80 inches here on the coast. So far 2010’s rainfall is close to 100 inches.

What we are discovering is that Oregon rain is not mere rain.

Yesterday we drove 25 miles south to Gold Beach through a pelting downpour, on the shore-hugging US 101. This spectacular stretch of coastal highway is to my mind equal to any in the country.  To us it’s as remarkable as Route 1 in Mendocino or Big Sur.

Silver Strand © SR Euston

First we approached mist hidden Humbug Mountain, a Japanese woodblock print come to life, evocative in minimalist gray-black brushstrokes looming up out of the ocean, into the clouds. Then Ophir Beach, silver waves cresting on gold sand. Finally we crossed  the Rogue on the Patterson bridge, a 1932 arched fairyland structure, just north of Gold Beach. What a ride!

This cold morning it snowed. At first it was pellet-like, not quite hail, more an uncertainty about what to be. Later snow came in earnest. Huge, wet flakes—a blizzard, coastal-style. Both the little Douglas firs, the succession tree in our field, and our giant, stately madrone, were frosted white in a magical snow globe scene.

Then there were last week’s storms: thunder, downpour, wet-edged clouds, watery blue sky. So beautiful it almost hurt.

Yes, I miss New Mexico, my sunburnt homeland. The heat, the dryness, the lizard vegetation. I miss squinting when I go outside.

But to do something really different, this place—this new, green, mud, sea and sky wet world—is truly worth the doing.

We’re home. Again.

Morning Snow November © SR Euston

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