by Ann Koppy, BHSoc Historian
One hundred and thirty five years ago a devastating windstorm slammed coastal Oregon and made its way to inland valleys, causing unprecedented havoc and destruction. The January 9, 1880 event has since been called the “Storm King” and it may be the most damaging in the history of southwest Washington and western Oregon. At the time it was called the most violent storm in the history of the Pacific Northwest. Barns, woodsheds, and outbuildings were flattened. Roofs were carried 600 or more feet.
The day began bright and sunny, a welcome relief following a stretch of wet weather that had dumped several inches of snow in the region and toppled trees by the acre. By 10 a.m. 20 mph wind gusts swept in from the Pacific Ocean, racing from the southwest, heading northeast up the Columbia River. Lacking modern technology, no one had advance warning of what was to come. Only a division of the United States War Department could afterwards give details of the conditions.
U. S. Army Signal Corps Portland station registered barometric pressure that dropped suddenly and rapidly to 28.556 and then just as quickly rose to normal.
(The Corps’ Weather Service had been established shortly after the end of the Civil War as a national system to observe and report meteorological conditions using telegraph and marine signals.)
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a winter barometer reading of about 30 is considered typical while a hurricane can fall to slightly more than 27. Instruments measured winds at 87 mph.
The fury hit certain areas hard and skirted around others. Washington County and its 7,600 residents seem to have escaped the brunt of the winds that struck Willamette Valley counties. S.A. Holcomb of West Union wrote this account for the Willamette Farmer newspaper: “This morning it rained, snowed, and sleeted all at one time and at about 10 the wind rose and blew a terrible blast until near 12 o’ clock. It was a perfect gale. By 1 o’clock it appeared the world would soon come to an end. …the fence rails in every direction were flying like feathers; trees were prostrated by the thousands… Six o’clock the weather calm and freezing.” There was damage to cities throughout the state, but the greatest property damage appears to have been in Portland and East Portland.
Tugboats capsized and drifted down the Willamette River. Railroad bridges were demolished. Awnings fell and hundreds of houses lost their roofs, while many others were demolished. Lives were lost. Buildings crushed occupants. A falling tree limb tore an infant from her mother’s arms, killing the little girl instantly in Kalama, Washington. Train service throughout the region was delayed until debris could be removed and track repaired. Telegraph lines were torn down, disrupting communication.
Stories of the noise and fury were retold for decades as people compared any piece of bad weather to the big one. When a Past Master of Portland’s Evening Star Grange visited Beaverton to install local officers in 1918, she made mention the organization had missed holding only one meeting since its 1873 founding—the “Black Friday” storm of 1880. No one—white settler or Native American—had seen anything like it.
Categorised in: Our Town
This post was written by Michael Wong