Adventures in Oregon Coast Storm Chasing
By Andre' Hagestedt
(Depoe Bay, Oregon) - Am I chasing the storm – or is the storm chasing me?
This is what runs through my head as I zip down Highway 6 towards Tillamook, for what was to become a fascinating and slightly scary romp through a coastal storm – just 48 hours after a bigger one hit and then was followed by a freakish snowstorm.
Getting into Tillamook, and even closer to the beaches of Bayocean, you can feel the winds starting to kick in. Once at Bayocean, my elderly little Camry is definitely shaking in the wind. The ocean is one big mass of gray sea and white breakers, licking at the rocks of Bayocean and the little village of Cape Meares, covering up the sandy parts entirely. The cliff known as Cape Meares is covered in a ghostly cloud. It's all quite dramatic.
Then it's southward, past the entrance to Cape Meares, over the rough and winding road of the northern entrance to the Three Capes Loop and into Oceanside. There's plenty going on here. The waves are definitely imposing – but not as monstrous as I've seen them in lesser wind situations.
Here, the the wind is the big monster, however. I devise a way to use my big zoom lens – which usually requires a tripod – from the fairly windless comfort and dry conditions of my car. Rather ingenious, I think to myself, setting up the tripod in my passenger seat so I can take close-ups of the distant Three Arch Rocks. Even here, however, the wind is knocking my car around so that exposures are a bit difficult.
At another moment, I hide behind a sign on this viewpoint in an attempt to shield myself from the wind gusts, which probably reach 40 to 50 mph at this point. I make the mistake of leaning against the sign to steady myself, but the sign is shaking even harder than I do in the wind. I can only laugh at myself at this point.
On towards Netarts, and you see major clumps of snow on the sides of the road, left over from just 48 hours before. This area got around eight inches of the stuff that day. Now, the clumps, and the remnants of snowmen in these rural yards, struggle to survive in this downpour.
On to Cape Lookout. My intention is to head down the Three Capes Route after this, but there's a mysterious roadblock immediately after the state park entrance: that road is closed. Once inside Cape Lookout State Park, the winds have suddenly picked up. Those tall, towering trees are roaring when the gusts pick up, even bending.
I only have time to take a few shots, standing beneath those wavering trees. At one point, another huge gust erupts, I have to steel myself against it, and those trees above me make all manner of scary noises. I chicken out. I decide to run back to my car, thinking this is not the best place to stand and that one of these creaking things may just come down. Yes, I'm being a wuss, because I simultaneously realize those things have around forever and are indeed sturdy enough to withstand yet another storm; they have probably seen hundreds of them.
It's startling here, nonetheless, with those waves so thick and so close to the vegetation line.
Because of the road closure, this trip requires backtracking through Tillamook. Once back to the Three Capes Tour just north of Pacific City, it's essentially dark and fairly stormy now. Coming up on the rise at Tierra Del Mar, it looks like a mix of sand and thick rain water rushing across the road.
Down towards Neskowin and behind Cascade Head – where the road was closed for a while 48 hours earlier – the wind continues to batter your car even harder in this storm. The roadside is littered with tree debris and trees leaning hard, threatening to fall. Higher up in what is sometimes called the “Corridor of Mystery,” the leftovers from that previous snowstorm increase in number and size. I almost feel sorry for those hapless blobs of snow, as they try to stave off melting in this deluge.
Through Lincoln City and past more car-knocking winds, I finally get to my destination: Depoe Bay. Settling into my room, I head out to try and take pics of the stormy melee in the dark. This becomes a dark comedy of errors, resulting in frozen toes, battered fingers, soaked camera equipment and shouts of frustration that would be more at home on the show Trailer Park Boys. But it still yields some interesting sights beneath the bridge, where you can see the lights at the harbor's mouth.
I give up and head back, feeling pretty worn out and beaten up. Periodically, the walls of the place rumble with a gust of wind.
Around 1:30 a.m., I get a bit restless. The storm has subsided a tad. It's not as blustery or a complete deluge as before. I take a brief walk down to a secret little viewing spot at the southern end of the bridge to check out the crazed wave action.
The lights on the harbor channel are right there, just a tad to your right as you look out. Around them a thick, steady mist pours in from the sea – part ocean spray and mostly wind-driven rain, I imagine, since the rain isn't hitting that hard. It's just flying incredibly fast. There's nothing but pitch black around around the lights, like an empty void, except, of course, for what you can see of the ocean. They create this curious, nebulous blob of a shape shining into the dark, and this illuminates the flying wet sea air – this is the only way you know it's there.
Manic waves come racing in out of nowhere and smack that triangular concrete wall. Interestingly enough, they're not that big. I've seen much bigger here on much calmer days.
Walking back to my room, you can still hear that ocean roaring. There's supposed to be another storm pounding in soon, predicted to arrive around 6 a.m. or so. I've just been through one of them, and the rest of the coast has seen two or three in recent days.
Bring it on, I'm thinking. Next please.
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