The Windstorm of February 6, 1999

a perspective by

Wolf Read

The February 6, 1999 storm was not the strongest of the year--that status is reserved for the March 3rd event. However, the February storm, by rough calculation, was probably the 2nd strongest, and progressed in a fashion fairly typical of such cyclones; thus, it can be informative to examine some details about this windstorm.

Table 1, below, shows the minimum pressures achieved during the February 6. 1999 windstorm for a number of locations in the Pacific Northwest. Typical of northeast-trending lows that head into the Northwest Washington / South Vancouver Island area, the lowest readings were obtained in the northern sector of the region affected by the storm. Figure 1, below Table 1, is a graphical depiction of this trend. The time that minimum central pressures were achieved gets later in the day the further north the observation station is, also the familiar mark of these northward-trending storms (see Figure 2, below). Source: NWS Seattle, From Posted Hourly METAR Reports.

Location Reading Day Time (UTC)
Interior Valleys
BLI (Bellingham, WA) 28.92" 02/06/1999 22:53
NUW (Whidby I. Naval Station) 28.93" 02/06/1999 22:55
PAE (Paine Field, Everett) 28.97" 02/06/1999 21:53
SEA (Sea-Tac Airport) 28.96" 02/06/1999 22:56
RNT (Renton) 28.97" 02/06/1999 22:53
TCM (Tacoma) 29.00" 02/06/1999 22:55
OLY (Olympia) 28.99" 02/06/1999 21:56
TDO (Toledo) 29.08" 02/06/1999 20:58
VUO (Vancouver, WA) 29.18" 02/06/1999 20:34
PDX (Portland, OR) 29.20" 02/06/1999 20:56
SLE (Salem, OR) 29.23" 02/06/1999 17:56
CVO (Corvallis) 29.23" 02/06/1999 18:13
EUG (Eugene) 29.29" 02/06/1999 17:56
MFR (Medford) 29.55" 02/06/1999 17:56
Coastal Strip
UIL (Quillayute, WA) 28.84" 02/06/1999 21:14
HQM (Hoquiam) 28.98" 02/06/1999 20:50
AST (Astoria, OR) 29.02" 02/06/1999 20:20
OTH (North Bend) 29.31" 02/06/1999 17:53
ACV (Arcata, CA) 29.42" 02/06/1999 11:47

Figure 1, below, is a chart that depicts the above February 6. 1999 windstorm minimum pressures, plotting Pacific Northwest Interior observation stations from south to north.

Figure 2, below, is a chart that depicts the time of occurrence of the February 6, 1999 windstorm minimum pressures, plotting Pacific Northwest Interior observation stations from south to north. Some of these figures are probably rough, especially on the south end. The migration of the north component of the storm's motion vector, in terms of the location of the minimum pressure point at these stations is about 60 mph (CVO-BLI 300 miles, over 5 hours). The arrival of the highest winds lagged behind this: at CVO peak gust arrival time was about 18:33 UTC 6 FEB 1999 (42 knots), and for BLI that arrival time was around 01:22 UTC 7 FEB 1999 (39 knots), a difference of nearly 7 hours over about 300 miles of straight-line distance for a travel time of roughly 43 mph.

Journal Entries

At the time of the windstorm, I was staying for the weekend at the town of Freshwater, CA, at my wife's place (she was going to school at Humboldt State University while I worked for the University of California, Berkeley, some 292 road miles to the south) which is about 6 miles northeast of Eureka. The southern periphery of the storm gave northern California some solid winter weather, and here are my notes from that time period:

February 6, 1999: Saturday

0812 HRS: (Freshwater, CA) I'm back on the couch, with the storm going full. Wind speeds are occasionally reaching 30 to 40 mph as far as I can tell. Out of the south. Rain, heavy at times, is tapping on the greenhouse window. It's been raining all night. The sky is periodically getting dark and light--relative, of course, for it's a uniform gray, as heavier bands roll through. Imagine my shock, after the sky began to lighten at sunrise, when things became dark again.

I gathered info over the internet. Winds have been 40 to 55 mph on the coast, with a tight gradient: at one point, 0500, Crescent City's barometer was reading 29.57", while down in Arcata, it was 29.72" (low so far 29.69"). Cloud tops are reaching 30,000 feet in some of the heavier cells, and it looked like quite a broad field of precipitation was yet to move through.

As the low deepened off of Oregon, pressures really fell to the north. As low as 29.29" on the Washington coast. Some places in western Oregon had pressure falls of 0.1" an hour. Bay Area locations experienced 1 millibar-an-hour for several hours until things leveled off at about 0600.

This rain's still coming down hard, with gusty winds. I recently heard some birds singing. And earlier I saw some crows flying about, skiring along the redwood grove behind our home. I wonder if they are senseing an end to the storm, or were just hopeful--maybe the barometer's recent rise threw them off.

It's getting dark again. Time to go watch the storm. 0834 HRS.

February 7, 1999: Sunday

1416 HRS: (Freshwater, CA) The weather has broken into a showery regieme today, with another storm due tomorrow. Not before dumping 1.5 to 2.5 inches of rain in the lowlands, and 3 to 7 in the highlands around here. The Bay Area had 1 to 3 inches as moderate to heavy rain fell overnight and into the morning. Winds peaked around 33 mph in Arcata and 52 mph at Crescent City, with San Francisco airport seeing a gust to 43 mph.

The low bombed out off the Washington coast, dropping the central pressure to 978 mb before turning inland over the Olympic Peninsula. SeaTac Airport saw 28.96" before the low cut to the north and east, bringing a short bout of high winds up to 50 mph. Other barometric readings bottomed out at 28.84" at Quillayute and about 28.92" at Bellingham. Port Townsend saw 28.89". Peak gusts in eastern/central King County reported by spotters were in the 58 to 64 mph range. Olympia saw 46 mph, Everett 52 mph and Portland, OR, about 43 mph. Rain totals to north were lighter than here, in general. 1434 HRS.

1700 HRS: (Rest stop south of Laytonville on Hwy 101, CA) Impressions of this drive so far (the mark of a recent heavy rainstorm):

A young, 2' diameter over 80' tall, redwood fell across 101 south, had been sawed up and shoved onto the shoulder of the road. Freshly paved patches of 101 north of Garberville, repairs from last year's El Nino rains, cracked and sliding again. The Eel River muddy and turbulent, spilling over onto the flood plains and swirling around the bases of alders, black cottonwoods, and willows, even small redwoods in cases. White water cascading down from rocky cliffs along the second biway section (counting north to south), pouring down dozens of locations, spattering onto the narrow inside shoulder of the road, beautiful waterfalls that weren't there before. Piles of rocks in the same location, foreboding, bespeaking the danger of driving 101 in the winter. Further south, in more open country, numerous mudslides beginning, too many to county, some huge, over 25 meters wide, many small, little sections of hill that liquified and poured down; many new rivulets in what were once pristine hillsides. The biggest slides were the most foreboding, bulging out, threatening to pop and spill their insides all over the road, some with half-meter to meter high slump "cliffs", marking the fault from which they began sliding, standing starkly from their tops: red brown lines of clay-mud striking against the fresh green grass. Slides were most evident in areas of recent highway construction, places without trees and only a thin coast of new grass. A creek just north of Laytonville rushing bankfull, surging over boulders and around alders; one Douglas-fir leaned over the creek precariously, its roots having been exposed. A large mudslide on a densely forested, very steep, hill, another red gash on verdant green. The Eel River encroaching upon the "Reggae by the River" stage, and getting frightfully near the lowest portions of 101.

And more and more--the mark of 3 to 7 inches of rain in less than 24 hours, with blustery winds. One more storm like that could shut down 101 with big mudslides and more flooding. 1730 HRS.

1838 HRS: (Ukiah, CA) A Douglas-fir was blown down just a half mile south of the rest stop I wrote at last entry--the tree fell across south 101, but was cut and carried out of the way. Also, the farm fields just north of Willits were flooded--oaks standing among a shallow lake of muddy water. The flooded fields went on for miles . . . mostly to the east of 101.

More wind and rain on the way tonight according to the radio KPIX 740 AM. A few stars are shining through high clouds: beautiful striated plains of altocumulus looking like giant gray fileds ploughed overhead. The sun melted away behind the clouds, looking like a headlight in the fog, long before it set over the forested coastal mountains. Signs of an incoming storm. The wind is calm. The air is cool. A brief respite before the next event? 1845 HRS.

February 8, 2001: Monday

2140 HRS: (Lafayette, CA) A pine tree blew over Wildcat Canyon Road along the eastern crest of the main ridge of the Berkeley Hills during this weekend's storm. It completely crossed the road, and was sawed up & shoved out of the way by the time of my commute this morning. A woman died in Marin County when a 100-foot tree fell and crushed her car--the dange inherent in these strong storms. Hopefully this house wont start sliding down the hill and end up in the Happy Valley!

Finally, just off the west end of the San Rafael bridge, I saw a highway construction sign: "TO HECK WITH THE RAIN." It was one of thse big flashing trailer-born ones, though not flashing this time. The attitude reflects the typical Bay Area opinion, but not mine! 2154 HRS.

Last Modified: March 2, 2003
Page Created: October 20, 2001

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