We are looking back to
the very beginnings of climate reporting in the Portland area,
If interested in Portland's
recent severe winter cold waves, click here.
1888 was one of the most brutal
winters ever experienced in the Portland area. The mean temperature
for January 1888 was an even 22.0 degrees F, which is 16.1 degrees
below normal, equivalent to raising the city to 4800 feet-- the
elevation of Santiam Pass! Other historic records indicate that
December 1884 had very deep snows followed by subzero cold and
huge losses of livestock and other damage, and was remembered
as the "worst ever" for many decades later.
Frozen Rivers! There are several
instances in the historic records of the Willamette and Columbia
Rivers freezing over, with ice jams and icebreakers at work on
the rivers to keep the Port of Portland open! There are even pictures
of cars being driven across the icy Willamette River in downtown
Portland, eg. December, 1924. Even far to the south of
Portland, The Oregonian newspaper noted on Dec. 24 that the Willamette
River was frozen to the depth of seven inches in Eugene! 1933
also froze the Columbia, and may have been the most recent
occurrence of this.
1949 and Winter 1950
The winters of both 1949 and 1950 provided
residents with two back-to-back horrific winters, which shattered
many records, combining both extreme cold and deep snowfalls.
Most of those marks were so extreme that they are still easily
standing today, eg. in the extreme cold category, the average daily low in January
1949 was 21.0 degrees, and in January 1950 it was 21.2 degrees,
both breaking the old "coldest month" record that had
been set in 1888, and both marks still standing tall in 2016 as
"coldest ever." Since 1950,
the only cold even approaching these records was January 1985,
when the mean monthly temperature was 26.8. But in the cold category,
outstanding events of Winter 1950 were two out of the three times
in history that Portland has been below zero!
Portland's all-time record low was set on February 2, 1950 at 3 below zero. Salem's
second-coldest all-time low of 10 below was set on January 31,
1950 (Salem's absolute lowest is 12 below).
long-lasting snows! The winters of 1949 and 1950 gave stunned residents
the experience of living in true "Snow Belt" cities,
with weeks-long snow on the ground, and many very cold days with
snow deeper than 10 inches on the ground....January 1950's
snowfall dwarfs modern contenders, with an awesome 41 inches
falling during the long, cold month (the much-touted heavy snows
of Decemer 2008 totalled only about half of 1950's)......
Also of interest regarding the winter of 1949 is the little-known
fact that a very unusual early-season cold invasion occurred approx.
October 19-21, 1949, setting all-time record lows for the dates
that in 2009 have still not been beaten-- such low temp. records
are found for cities ranging all up and down the West Coast, from
Olympia, WA (23 degrees), to Portland, Oregon (27 degrees), to
Medford, Oregon (20 degrees), to Sacramento, Calif.(35 degrees)--
and even as far south as Douglas, Arizona on the Mexican border
(31 degrees)....This type of major cold air invasion was similar
to the range and power to the Siberian
Express of February, 1933, which set all-time cold records
across several States that have never been beaten. It was also
similar to the freak Nov. 15, 1955 cold wave that pushed Olympia,
WA to zero degrees establishing a record that still easily beats
its closest contender since.
The Big Picture of Historic Long-term
Portland Snowfalls, compliments
of Steve Pierce, AMS: During the period of 1871 to the present,
Portland's all-time records for snowfall include, at number one,
the winter of 1892-93, with 60.9 inches of snow.... The winter
of 1949-50 came in third with a total of 44.5 inches, while winter
2008-2009 is (as of January 14) only in 20th place,
with a total of 21.3 inches. Within the past ten years, the next-highest
contender was the winter of 2003-2004, with 12.3 inches. Global Warming is highly suspect
in a long-term analysis Mr. Pierce
did of Portland snowfall by decade, beginning in 1871. That analysis
showed a pronounced and steady decline in Portland snowfall over
the period from 1871 to 2010. The earliest decade having 183 inches of snowfall, while the 2000-2010 decade recorded only 45 inches,
a four-fold decrease, and one which clearly supports the unscientific
"feelings" of many Portlanders oldtimers that their
city rarely gets any significant snow anymore.
Ice Storm 2004 was
decidedly puny in comparison to many of the cold and snow events
in Portland's historic record, for example January of 1950, or
the winter of 1968-69 (see below)....The winter of 1919-1920
is still a record-holder in many categories (see
1950--- During the brutal
winter of 1949-50 there was an entire month when the Portland
area lay under a deep blanket of snow over a foot deep. Janary,
1950 buried the City with a total snowfall at the Airport of 41
inches! The unbelievable month ended in a record-setting cold
wave, which on January 31 gave Portland a new all-time record
low of 2 below zero, then promptly broke that on February 2, freezing
the City with Portland's
all-time record low of 3 below zero. Here are some quotations:
"Temeratures over the entire State were far below normal,
and precipitation was much above. The major portion of this precipitation
fell in the form of snow and sleet even in the western division
(eg. Willamette Valley). In Portland a total of 32.9 inches of
snow fell during the month (41 inches at the Airport)...Severe
blizzard conditions on the 13th and a heavy sleet and ice storm
on the 18th-19th together caused several hundred thousand dollars
worth of damage and virtually halted traffic for two or three
days over widespread areas, particularly in western Oregon...."
George Taylor adds, "...All highways west of the Cascades
and through the Columbia River Gorge were closed due to large
snow drifts." (First quote is from the 1950 Annual Climatological
Summary, written by E.S. Ellison, and second quotation is from
The Oregon Weather Book by George Taylor. ) And Portland
was mild compared to what was happening eastward up the Columbia
River Gorge, where the cold and snow were worse yet, with Cascade
Locks buried under 92 inches of snowfall for the month, and the
town of Hood River nearly shut down with 94 inches. Further east
up the Gorge, the normally semi-arid town of The Dalles saw an
unbelievable 76 inches fall during the month.
1968-69--- Finally, bringing
us to a more recent time, let's not forget the winter of 1968-69.
This winter featured a brutal double-whammy of snow in late-December-January....
In total there were 18 days with one inch or more of snow on the
ground, with snow up to 9 inches deep during the first period,
and up to 10 inches deep in the second! Kids were in heaven and
snowmen almost out-numbered people by the time the long snowy
period ended.... While temperatures were not as extremely cold
as in either 1949 or 1950, they were substantially colder than
Portland's Ice Storm of 2004. eg. Dec. 30, 1968 had a high of
14 and a low of 8, and Dec. 31, 1968, had a high of only 19 and
a low of 9 degrees; in contrast, the coldest recorded during Ice
Storm 2004 was a comparatively mild 18 degrees....Overall, winter
1968-69 ended with a total snowfall of 34.0 inches, ranking it
in the Number 9 spot since records began in 1871..... Also of
note, and more recent yet, was the cold wave of Christmas 1978,
which extended also into early January 1979.
December, 1919. Apologies to all other contenders, but December
of 1919 is still the Grand-daddy of winter storms in Oregon---
the year still holds various records for both extreme cold and
for deep snow! What may be Oregon's record for "The most
snow in 24 hrs. in an actual town" was probably set on December
10, 1919, when 40 inches smothered Parkdale, a small town in the
apple-growing region above Hood River. Also of note was Parkdale's
63 inch storm total from the three-day storm. Completing the horrendous
winter picture, very severe cold in arctic outbreaks hit the State,
especially on around Dec. 11-16, and weather observers of the
time noted that the Columbia River was frozen and winter had not
even arrived yet!.. December 13, 1919 saw Austin at 41 below zero,
and the same date saw Pendleton shivering with 28 below (which
is tied with Feb. 1929 for that city's all-time record low). Overall,
winter 1919-1920 saw only 19 inches of snow fall in Portland itself,
but it stayed on the ground for a very long time due to the frigid
temperatures. In contrast to Portland, nearby Forest Grove was
really clobbered by heavy snowfall--- a single 48 hour period
(Dec. 9-10) saw 25 inches of snow fall-- dry, light stuff, and
then temperatures went sub-zero for four days, as low as 15 below!
In over 90 years since, no storm of such magnitude has struck
Northwestern Oregon (deep snows, extreme cold, and long duration).
Has Global Warming been the Culprit?
1990-- the last
really cold December recorded in Portland. Coldest day had high
of 20 and low of 12.
1983-- but Christmas-time
1983 will long be remembered as much worse than 1990. For many
days the east winds whistled at consistent 40-50 mph, while episodes
of rain, snow and fog messed up all transportation. Temperatures
for the 12-14 days of the cold wave were not quite as cold as
what would occur in 1989, but with the extreme winds were brutal,
eg. Dec. 23 with a high of only 19, a low of 12, and winds gusting
to 48 mph! This cold wave featured a terrible ice storm that began
on Christmas Day and lasted for the next several days. Could not
have been worse timing by Mother Nature!
1980-- the last
really cold January recorded in Portland. Coldest day had high
of 32 and low of 13.
1989-- the last
really cold February recorded in Portland. Coldest days were Feb.
2 and 3, with frigid highs of 15 and.18, and lows of 9 and 11, then Feb. 5 also hit a
low of 9... (amazingly, January 30th had had a high of a balmy
56 degrees, and early January had gotten as high as 60!)
of 2013 featured a quite significant Arctic blast for Oregon,
although Portland was not the hardest hit (click
here for more)
some interesting early and late dates of hot and cold during Portland's
weather year cycle:
temperature: March 13, 2005, 75 degrees, during a long spell of
nearly cloudless similar days!
temperature: April 26, 1947, 86 degrees.
Earliest 90 degree
temperature: April 30, 1998, 90 degrees.
temperature: October 11, 1991, 86 degrees.
Latest 80 degree
temperature: October 15, 1991, 80 degrees.
Latest 70 degree
temperature: November 13, 1991, 71 degrees.
October 8, 1985, 32 degrees (Seneca was 4 degrees!).
Earliest 20 degrees
or less temperature: November 12, 1978, 19 degrees (Seneca was
8 below zero)
Earliest 15 degrees
or less temperature: 13 degrees on November 15, 1955 (east of
the Cascade Mtns., Pendleton was 4 below zero, while Seneca fell
to an unbelievable 31 below zero! Meanwhile in Washington State
an astounding 3 degrees was recorded on the shores of Puget Sound
in Olympia----comment: the early season cold wave of November
1955 caused much damage because it was so early and so severe
that few people had yet properly winterized their homes, vehicles,
COLD: Cold Wave of November, 1985---- in Western Washington, Olympia
had lows of zero, two days in
a row, Nov. 22 and 23, a real frozen turkey time! Meanwhile Portland
recorded an cold but unremarkable 17, while Seattle had a chilling
10 degrees, and east of the Cascades Yakima was 13 below zero...Oregon's
Arctic King, Seneca, fell to 31 below zero during this early-season
cold wave event.
Steve Pierce at the AMS, Portland chapter: "Regional windstorm
expert Wolf Read, who recently spoke at the 2011, 19th Annual
Winter Weather Forecast Conference in Portland, has dedicated
a website to historical windstorms of the Pacific Northwest. Please
see full details on the 1981 windstorm (and others) at: http://www.climate.washington.edu/stormking/November1981.html
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Page Last Reviewed 11/15/2016