The Great January Ice Storm of 2004

The snow and ice storms that blanketed Portland, Oregon, and the surrounding area beginning on New Year's Day, 2004, did an enormous amount of damage to the trees there. At my location near La Center, WA, we got ten inches of wet snow on January 1 and 2, and an additional four to six inches of dry powder starting late on Monday, January 5. However, with temperatures in the low twenties, and winds gusting well above 30 mph, the actual depth of the blowing powder was impossible for me to measure.

Pond with Snow
View from my kitchen window of the pond and snow-covered
woods behind the house. This was taken Saturday or Sunday,
in the lull between storms.

About mid-afternoon on January 6 a series of warm fronts pushing over the cold air began dropping first ice pellets, and then rain that froze almost instantly on everything it touched. By the morning of the 7th, there was a half-inch thick crust of ice on top of the snow, and every exposed branch and twig was completely sheathed in ice. It did not take long before the weight began breaking off limbs, causing them to crash down onto the icy crust below with loud cracks and booms, accompanied by a cacaphony of tinkling ice chunks.

The alders fared the worst. On many of the younger trees, the trunks just snapped off a quarter to half-way down. Occasionally a entire alder or big-leaf maple tree would simply topple over from the weight.

Cropped alders
Four of these five young alders were snapped in half by the weight of the ice.

The bombardment continued for a day and a half, and at times the noise was almost continuous. It sounded like an artillery barrage. The siege effect was compounded by the fact that we lost power about 2:30 a.m. Thursday morning. So with a single small candle burning in a glass on the table, we huddled under afghans on the sofas, (it was almost impossible to sleep) listening to anime music on the portable CD player and wondering if and when something big was going to come down on the roof.

Icicles
By Wednesday the gutters and porch railing were festooned with icicles small and large.
It looked as though the house had been decorated for a fancy dress ball.

By mid-morning we decided that it was probably going to be a long time before the power came back on. (In fact, it took over 34 hours.) We decided to risk a trip out to the tarp-covered woodpile twenty feet from the house, under some cedar trees. It took two separate runs to get sufficient wood back to the shelter of the porch to satisfy me that we weren't going to freeze. We got a bit of a scare just before the second run, when several pounds of ice shards crashed down onto the snow just a foot from where I would have been standing.

Pond after the storm
This is how the pond looked on Friday morning. Notice the gaps in the treeline.

With the wood stove burning warmly, we spent the afternoon and evening playing Scrabble by candlelight, and sleeping. After all, one can only spend so many hours wincing at every crash and boom before the novelty wears off and it simply becomes background noise.

Ice spear
Did I mention that we had *big* icicles?

Power was restored at noon on Friday, January 9. By that time the temperature had finally crept up above freezing, and the thaw was beginning. We bundled up in boots and coats and gloves and went out to survey the damage. It was awesome. Nearly every hardwood tree that we could see had suffered breakage. Many alders were simply lopped off as if they had been scythed. As we plowed laboriously thru the ice-covered snow along the gravel drive, I saw at least a half dozen large trees completely down. I have not yet surveyed the woods on the rest of the property.

More downed trees
The big tree lying horizontal is a double-trunk alder. (Later, we measured it at 90+ feet from tip to rootball!)
The two smaller trees down in the left foreground are 12- or 14-year-old alders.

Although there was a good bit of debris littering the bridge, we were extremely fortunate that no large tree came down across the drive, which runs nearly 800 feet from the house to the corner of the property. As I write this, we are still waiting for the snow to melt a bit more so we can get out. (Since we have never had weather quite this bad in the fifteen years I have lived here, we don't have chains for either car.) But there are already patches of bare green ground visible in the pasture across the way. We even had sunshine today for a short while. Spring is coming. Real Soon Now!

Icy Landscape
View down to the creek Friday morning. Although the thaw was finally underway,
the bigleaf maple twigs in the foreground are still cased in ice.


This next page shows some of the damage done by the ice storm. For dial up users, these pictures are smaller and should load faster.

LM January 10, 2004

AFTERWORD: Over the next few months I managed to salvage some alder, maple, ash, and cascara from trees downed or damamged in the storm. I invite you to browse my shop to see some of the woodturnings which I have created from that bounty.

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