Earlier this month (October 2016), parts of the coastal Pacific Northwest faced nearly a week of heavy rains and high winds as a series of storms crashed ashore. An intense Pacific jet stream, amplified by interaction with the remnants of Typhoon Songda, carried copious amounts of moisture into the coastal mountains of Washington and Oregon, with the most intense rainfall occurring October 13th-17th. Forecasts of widespread hurricane-force wind gusts failed to materialize, but localized wind gusts were nonetheless impressive: peak wind gusts were 70 mph near Honey Lake, CA, 89 mph near Incline Village, NV, 94 mph near Megler, WA, and 103 mph near Oceanside, OR. In addition, two rare tornadoes managed to touch down in the coastal Oregon cities of Manzanita and Oceanside, with substantial structure and tree damage reported in Manzanita.
Noteworthy though the winds may have been, the widespread heavy rainfall was the most impactful aspect of these storms. Our preliminary MetStorm analysis of regional rainfall shows just how widespread the heavy rainfall was, particularly in mountainous areas. Many high-elevation locations recorded in excess of 6″ of rain during this 4-day period, with our analysis indicating a local maximum of up to 20″ in the Olympic Mountains of northwestern Washington.
Even in lower-lying areas between mountain ranges, including such cities as Portland, OR and Seattle, WA, rainfall was substantial enough to push several areas towards their wettest Octobers on record. The rainy season is usually just ramping up through October in the Northwest, so several-inch lowland rainfall events in October are not particularly common, although they wouldn’t be out of place later in the season. The majority of the area received rainfall consistent with what one would expect to occur at least once a year. However, isolated pockets in the mountains and in the Puget Sound region saw much rarer heavy rains, consistent with recurrence intervals in the 10- to 1000-year range. This is particularly impressive when considering that the heaviest rains in these areas generally tend to occur between November and April.
MetStorm’s mass curve analysis illustrates how this multi-day event unfolded. The point of heaviest rainfall in our analysis is isolated, and two fields from that location are plotted below: hourly rainfall values throughout the event (shaded), and cumulative rainfall since the beginning of the event. Several distinct low pressure systems, including one associated with the remnants of what had been Super Typhoon Songda in the west Pacific Ocean several days earlier, brought distinct waves of rainfall to the region. While hourly values never exceeded 1″, the persistence of moderate to heavy rain over such a lengthy period added up–to over 20″ in this case.
Flooding fortunately proved to be minimal with this event, but many areas in the Northwest are now dealing with very saturated ground heading into what forecasters expect could be a wetter-than-average winter. If rainfall events of this magnitude continue to occur this winter, more severe flooding and mudslides are certainly a possibility.
Please note that the maps presented here are preliminary and will be updated when new data become available. If you are interested in this product, or any other product from our MetStorm Precipitation Analysis tool, please email us or send us a message though our contacts page here.