Weather

Parts of Thurston County still recovering from intense May 4 storm

Cleanup continues around Tenino, East Olympia and parts of Lacey, where an extreme weather pattern known as a wet microburst struck May 4.

“It really reminded me of the movie ‘Twister,’ just without the comical cows flying around,” said Cheyanne McClune, a farmhand at Lattin’s Country Cider Mill on Rich Road.

That’s where 22 jumbo trees fell, many pulling huge root balls right out of the ground. Seven other trees snapped in the middle during the storm. No people or animals were injured, but the farm’s power was knocked out for four days.

Now the business is spending thousands of dollars on tree removal, cleanup crews and building repairs.

“Almost every roof here had branches puncturing into it,” said co-owner Debbie Lattin. “Six hit the mill. Some hit the barns and the animal buildings, and the outbuildings. … All of our fences got taken out.”

Thurston County bore the brunt of the damage when a series of thunderstorms swept through Western Washington that day. Olympia airport recorded winds up to 49 mph. But judging by the damage, an expert with the National Weather Service in Seattle said winds could have been closer to 70 mph.

A microburst is a weather phenomenon that can happen during a powerful thunderstorm. A column of air sinks within the storm, along with heavy rainfall.

“It’s when a cloud essentially lets go of a massive amount of rainfall that would be akin to taking a several hundred yard-wide diameter water balloon, and dropping it on the region,” Scott Sistek, a meteorologist with KOMO-TV explained on his weather blog.

The force of the microburst leveled scores of towering century-old Douglas Fir trees that had survived more famous storms, including the Columbus Day Storm in 1962, the Inauguration Day Storm in 1993, and various ice and wind storms, according to David Drewry, owner of Double D Tree Service in Olympia.

“These trees just got slammed down, like an eighth-grader slamming a fifth-graders’ face down into a mud puddle,” Drewry said while giving a tour of storm-ravaged properties near East Olympia last week. “This is an event. This does not happen. I don’t know wherever in the world that a tree of this magnitude has ever fallen over in a storm.”

Drewry grew up near East Olympia, and has been working with trees for 35 years. He said he received about 30 calls after the storm, including several from people with trees through their homes, garages and other structures.

“Wherever the wind decided to hit, nothing in that area was going to survive,” Drewry said.

The storm blew trees over power lines, and toppled power poles.

Lacey Fire District 3 Fire Chief Steve Brooks said the scariest part of the storm was when about a dozen vehicles were trapped under live wires on Yelm Highway.

It took about two hours to get the electricity cut to those lines, and fire crews had to use loud speakers to encourage the occupants to stay calm and safe, Brooks said.

The district’s crews responded to 120 calls during the four hours that followed the storm. That’s about three times the number the crews respond to during a typical 24-hour period, Brooks said.

“That was the amazing part — the miraculous part, now — we did not have any injuries that were related to the storm,” he said.

The city of Lacey, which declared a state of emergency after the storm, has budgeted $300,000 to $400,000 for tree removal, sidewalk repair and other cleanup, said Scott Egger, director of Public Works.

The city plans to remove about 80 trees that sustained damaged in city-managed areas, he said.

As of midday Saturday, the city’s 16-acre Wanschers Community Park on Hicks Lake and the 28.6-acre Lake Lois Habitat Reserve on Sixth Avenue Southeast were still closed because of storm damage, according to the city’s website.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433, @Lisa_Pemberton

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