April 21, 2011

A Great Historical Dust Storm and FINALLY a Warm Day

Today is the 80th anniversary of the greatest dust storm in the history of our area. On 21 April 1931, very high pressure developed over southwest Canada and eastern Montana, while low pressure deepened over the intermountain west (see figure, with sea level pressures).

Between these two features a HUGE pressure difference developed, which led to very strong winds...we are talking about 50-60 mph on both sides of the Cascades! These strong winds combined with a previous period of warm, dry weather and recently tilled fields to result in an immense dust storm.

Dust over the Columbia Basin turned the sun into a weak, reddish orb, car lights were needed during the daytime, and dust extended to 10,000 ft. Dust pushed westward through Columbia Gorge and lower Cascade passes, extending artificial darkness over the Willamette Valley. Continuing its eastward movement, the dust pushed out into the Pacific, where the freighter Maui ran into the cloud 500 miles off the coast!

The winds during this event were so strong that thousands of trees were uprooted and power failures extended over both sides of the Cascades. Someone should make a movie about that event.

Dust storms still strike our region, particularly eastern Washington during the spring. Such storms often result in multiple car accidents due to the poor visibility and yes, some motorists follow WAY TO CLOSE. Not any of you, of course. Here is some video of such an event:


And sometimes tumbleweed come with the dust:

And now the good news. The lastest model forecasts suggest that Saturday is going to be extraordinary--sunny and the warmest yet this year. REACHING INTO THE MID-60s over western Washington. Even upper 60s on the eastern side of the Sound due to easterly flow off the Cascades. Here are the forecast temperatures Saturday afternoon from UW PROBCAST:

Unfortunately, the sun won't last...with rain coming in on Sunday. So make your plans for Saturday.


  1. This is my fault, but I'm not use to barometric pressure in inches. Just accustomed to UW maps in millibars.

    Anyway, not like I was alive, but what an extraordinary event. That's a setup you may see in January, but not April. Most dust storms this time of year, is a strong SW to NE gradiant, like today. Not NE to SW.

  2. Cliff,
    By my records over here in Manchester (near Port Orchard), we have not been much above 55 degrees this year. So if we hit 60 on Saturday that will be the first time this year. Does that match your records ? This seems to be the coldest winter since we came back to the northwest in summer of 2001.

  3. Cliffmass, someone brought up the point that the Iceland's volcano eruption last year, could be affecting the cold spring weather we are getting. Any merit to that theory?

    She remembered that after Mt. St. Helen's eruption, the summers were colder, too. Any correlation to that with this awful spring?

  4. Big dust storms in eastern Washington were common when I was young (in the 60's). We could see them coming - all windows and doors closed, tape around the edges if we had time - didn't help too much. If you were outside it was miserable...sand and grit in the eyes, nose, mouth...seemed like it was windy every day, but those dust storms were incredible.

  5. We got caught in a big dust storm while driving from Pullman towards Vancouver, WA in the early 1970s. Two vivid memories: 1) Seeing the long dark shadow being cast by a tall structure -- not only on the ground, but also IN THE AIR -- very weird. 2) Sometime the next day -- turning on the vehicle fan and being BLASTED with sand and dust then turning it off again as fast as we could!)

  6. Wow, today (Saturday) was unbelieveable. Temps in the mid to high 60s, clear skies, and it's still light out at 8PM! I think the last time we saw this, it was September!!!

    Please keep these coming Cliff!


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