Storm slams Central Oregon
The National Weather Service is sending a warning coordinator meteorologist to Jefferson County to determine whether Saturday's massive storm was a tornado or not.
The storm uprooted trees, downed power lines and blew irrigation pipes across roadways. Reports started about 2:20 p.m. Saturday and left thousands in Central Oregon without power.
The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners was already planning an emergency meeting Monday morning to finalize an application for moving to Phase 2 of reopening the county. Commissioner Wayne Fording said the county's emergency manager is touring the area with the National Weather Service, and Monday's meeting "will move forward with a timely response."
People who need disaster assistance should call the American Red Cross at 888-860-1455.
Rob Brooks, a hydrometeorological technician with the National Weather Service's Pendleton office, said the office isn't sure if the storm included a tornado or was another kind of phenomenon because the area's topography makes radar coverage less accurate than in places like the Midwest, which is much flatter.
One possibility was a downburst.
"They could do quite a bit more damage even away from the storm," Brooks said.
A downburst is often mistaken for a tornado. Downbursts descend from a thunderstorm and spread out when they hit the ground.
"In the production of the downburst, that large core of rain and hail that the updraft had been holding in the upper parts of the storm falls rapidly towards the ground," according to the National Weather Service. "It falls very quickly and drags a lot of air along with it, gaining speed as it plummets earthward. If the air beneath the base of the storm has low relative humidity, the downdraft's speed will increase further as some of the rain entering the dry air evaporates and cools the air, making the air 'heavier.' Then, if there is also a current of dry air coming into the storm aloft, cooling by evaporation can increase further and the downdraft becomes even stronger.
"When the downdraft hits the ground, much like a stream of water coming out of a faucet and hitting the sink, it spreads out rapidly in all directions and becomes known as a downburst. Downburst wind speeds have been known to exceed 100 mph — as strong as a tornado!" the Weather Service website said.
Pacific Power is working on five downed lines in the Culver area.
Spokesman Tom Gauntt said there were 1,848 customers in that area affected by the downed lines and 10,000 throughout Central Oregon.
"Through the evening, they were able to get about 130 back up," he said. They had another 260 reconnected at 1:18 Sunday morning.
"They're working on it," Gauntt said. "The goal is always to get as many people back up as quickly as possible."
But for 1,447 people in Culver, Pacific Power has no estimate of when the power will turn back on.
"Putting up five poles and restringing wire is a chore," Gauntt said.
Restrictions in place to prevent COVID-19 are not affecting the work, he said. "They don't need to be shoulder to shoulder."
According to Pacific Power's outage map, 1,761 people are without power in Crooked River Ranch, 1,449 between Culver and the Cove Palisades, 519 between Metolius and Madras, and 137 in Warm Springs. There are a few isolated outages in Madras, as well.
People have taken to Facebook to post pictures and videos of the storm and its aftermath, and the National Weather Service is using social media to help analyze the storm, Brooks said. But staff also encourage people to stay inside in storms.
Anita Limon was driving to Redmond when the rain and hail started falling.
"Then all of a sudden, these were flying across the road," she said, referring to farm sprinkler pipes. "We ended up turning around and were stuck on the road for about 30 minutes before some guys broke the pipes apart to get it out of the road."
Paige Williamson said she was headed back to Madras on Highway 97 when the storm hit.
"It was like a blackout around us of gray," she said in a Facebook post. "We couldn't see anything. All we could see is pipelines flying through the air like leaves. We (saw) sheds fly at one point, then power poles. A pipeline came through the back window of my car, so my husband tried to get us to safety, and I took off my belt and dove on top of my daughter and fought off the glass, rocks and storm while we had a chance to get out of it. My husband had to rip all of his clothes off to cover the baby. I've never been so scared for my life and I am holding my baby extra tight tonight!!"
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