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We've got this, Columbia County. This winter looks like it'll be a tough one, but we have lots of practice.

PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Scappoose residents Triston, Isaiah and CJ make snow angels and snowballs during a snow day in January 2019.2020 just keeps coming at us.

Last week, some residents of West St. Helens were surprised to see a tornado cruising through their neighborhood, tearing up roofs and ripping apart trees. Thankfully, the Nov. 10 tornado wasn't severe — at least by tornado standards — clocking in at an EF-0, the weakest possible on the scale used by the National Weather Service. And most importantly, no one was hurt.

But with how hectic this year has been, it's been difficult to focus on preparing for winter weather — and yes, while uncommon, tornadoes in the Pacific Northwest are generally a fall-to-winter phenomenon. So maybe this is a wake-up call.

We have already seen the worst wildfire season on record in Oregon, with more than 1 million acres burning in September alone, and the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record, with the latest-forming Category 5 storm yet seen lashing Central America just this week.

We're in the grip of a lethal pandemic that has already claimed the lives of a quarter-million Americans. Thankfully, we can see light at the end of the tunnel, but it's still a long and dark road we must walk to get there.

And we've just come through one of the most vituperative, high-stakes election seasons in memory, characterized by not just juvenile name-calling and angry disagreements, but by outright calls for one presidential candidate or the other to be thrown in prison.

Lest we forget, also, this year nearly started with another major war in the Middle East when Iran struck U.S. military bases in Iraq. That seems like a long time ago now, doesn't it?

So, who can blame us if we've been a little distracted? The Oregon winter is a problem for the future. It might even be easier to manage this year with most kids learning from home instead of in schools.

Nevertheless, it's wise to prepare.

One frustrating effect of the cycle of panic over COVID-19 is that as case counts spike, necessities become scarce. We saw this in March and April, when Gov. Kate Brown ordered lockdowns across the state and suddenly toilet paper vanished from the shelves. We're seeing the same thing now.

Of course, we should be stocked up at home with items like toilet paper. It's not something you want to run out of, after all.

But let's be smart about it. Knowing that everyone needs toilet paper, and that most people only need to use a little of it at a time, we should shop responsibly and pick up only what we would need to get by for a month or so. (For some unscientific but possibly instructive fun with this, try out the sliding scales on howmuchtoiletpaper.com, a website set up to help people stay stocked up without hoarding during the pandemic.)

The same principle applies to a major winter storm as to a COVID-19 quarantine. Be ready to stay inside for a few days, as long as a couple weeks, without needing to rush to the store. Maybe get your prescriptions refilled early. Stock your pantry and freezer so you have a steady supply of meals to make for your household. Consider having some essentials on hand you might not think of until you need them: 9-volt batteries for a beeping smoke alarm, replacement bulbs for a burned-out light fixture, disposable face masks if your favorite one tears or goes missing.

Be prepared, but don't hoard. You want to be ready to live through a relatively brief disruption, not the end times. You want to stay healthy, fed and comfortable, not open the South County Emporium of Trash Bags and Bottled Water.

With a strong La Niña weather pattern shaping up, we could be in for a rough winter — a grueling but fitting end to one of the least pleasant calendar years we've lived through. Thankfully, we've all had plenty of practice staying in and gawping out the window at the bizarro world outside. Keep your head, be considerate of others and carry on.


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