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Wicked weather pounds coast: First major winter storm spawns lightning, hail, snow and a tornado

Modified: Tuesday, Nov 10th, 2009

As the first major storm of the winter season bore down on the Oregon coast, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) officials last Thursday were warning even the most derring-do storm watchers to “sit this one out,” and telling folks to stay off jetties and out of the water.

They had already shut down the Columbia River and Tillamook Bay bars Thursday. Strong winds started that day, inundating beaches and bays with thick amounts of sea foam, and heavy waves doused unwary observers who got too close. The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a surf warning for the entire Oregon coast on Friday, indicating dangerous conditions on the beaches. Wind gusts were reported from 60 miles per hour along much of the coast to as high as 90 mph on Mt. Hebo in Tillamook County.

NWS officials reported swells of more than 27 feet, while other reported swells ranged as high as 50 feet.

The storm itself more than lived up to the hype, bringing wave after wave of heavy rain, lightning, thunder, hail, sleet, snow, wind gusts - and a tornado that swept through a section of Road’s End in Lincoln City on Friday night.

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department issued a news release Monday, reporting that the severe weather struck the county about 9 p.m. as “a large thunderstorm moved through.”

Sgt. Mark Meister said heavy rains flooded streets, and at about 10:13 p.m., lightning struck the Alsea Bay Bridge in Waldport, damaging a light pole and “spraying debris onto the roadway.”

The wicked weather hit Lincoln City hard Friday night, spawning a waterspout that moved ashore and turned into a tornado that ripped through a section of Road’s End at the north end of the city near Chinook Winds Casino Resort. Meister said Road’s End residents reported the tornado at 9:54 p.m. Friday. Sheriff’s deputies, Lincoln City police officers, and members of North Lincoln Fire & Rescue District responded.

“Deputies reported a damage path about two blocks wide, leading from the beach that stretched about three blocks to the east,” the sheriff’s office news release stated. They estimated about 20 to 30 homes and several vehicles were damaged. Most of the damage was broken windows and downed trees, but at least one home “suffered extensive damage.”

Pacific Power officials reported that about 350 homes lost power for several hours.

Emergency responders checked the area and found no one injured. “Many of the damaged homes were vacant at the time the tornado struck,” the release stated, noting that most of the homeowners had been notified as of Monday.

NWS Meteorologist David Elson verified that it was a tornado - an EF0, the weakest on the enhanced Fujita scale that measures their strength, with wind speeds of 65 to 85 mph. It damaged 11 home, three cars, and three decks.

While the tornado’s path of destruction was officially “a mere” 150 yards long and 80 yards wide, it “ended up doing considerable damage to the area.”

By 11:25 p.m. Friday, the USCG Sector Portland had issued a media advisory, announcing the closure of river bars along the Oregon and Washington coasts on Friday “due to extreme winds and heavy seas throughout the region.” Among others, the Captain of the Port ordered the closure of Depoe Bay, Yaquina Bay, and “entrances along the Oregon coast.”

The closures extended to “all vessels.” High surf warnings remained in effect through Sunday, and large waves kept pounding the beaches.

Terry Dillman is the assistant editor of the News-Times. Contact him at (541) 265-8571, ext 225, or terrydillman@newportnewstimes.com.

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