Many Clark County residents awoke to unusual overnight thunderstorms early today.
Lightning struck in the county roughly 150 times, and 0.04 inches of rain fell, said Amanda Bowen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland. The lightning began around 2 a.m., followed by a break before the main event between 5 and 6 a.m. Storms then tapered off throughout the morning.
The storms developed in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Bowen said. As an area of high pressure — associated with two days of hot weather — moved east, a patch of low pressure descended from the Gulf of Alaska, completing the recipe for the thunder and lightning.
“It’s a lot more rare that we get them overnight,” Bowen said.
While the weather service had been monitoring the possibility of storms, it was unclear whether they would actually take place, Bowen said.
“It was something that we weren’t really confident about, so we were wavering a little bit in our forecasts,” she said. “We definitely were keeping an eye on it at least three days out.”
A short-term weather forecast issued by the weather service during the peak of the storms said a radar spotted “a line of strong thunderstorms” extending south of Castle Rock in Cowlitz County to Yacolt, and then on to Rooster Rock State Park in Oregon. The thunderstorms were moving northeast at 15 mph.
The weather service listed Yacolt and Amboy among the affected communities, and also noted the greater Vancouver area in the forecast.
Dispatchers did not take any reports of major property damage or injuries, according to Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency.
Clark Public Utilities reported 17 power outages that were attributed directly to lightning strikes. A total of 96 customers were affected by outages, though others may have experienced blinks or voltage dips from lightning, spokeswoman Erica Erland said.
“Our crews worked through the night to make repairs and bring the power back on quickly for the customers affected,” Erland said in an email.
The Washington State Department of Transportation and Vancouver Public Works Department did not respond to any major issues such as downed trees in the road.
“We didn’t see anything like that, surprisingly,” WSDOT spokeswoman Celeste Dimichina said.
‘It’s a way to wake up’
For some residents, though, the storms made for an electrifying morning.
Dean Millett, 25, was sleeping in a guest house on his family’s farm between Ridgefield and La Center around 5:30 a.m. He sped out of his room when lightning struck a roughly 180-foot tree about 60 feet away, causing the tree to catch fire.
“He was literally knocked out of bed,” said his mother, Kristeen Millett, a digital marketing manager for Sprout Digital, an internet marketing division of The Columbian Publishing Company.
Dean Millett then ran inside to alert his parents, younger brother and a teenage exchange student from South Korea. All of the occupants hurried outside and called 911.
When lightning struck the tree, an explosion shrunk it by as much as 50 feet, Kristeen Millett said. Tree limbs that were 80 feet long fell, and dinner plate-sized pieces of bark flew as far as 150 feet.
“It was an amazing amount of debris,” Kristeen Millett said. “I was like, ‘Where’s the top of the tree?’”
As firefighters arrived, Kristeen Millett was searching for one of her two horses. She was not as concerned about fire spreading from the tree, which is isolated in the middle of a pasture, as much as the family’s animals. Five goats, 23 chickens and two dogs also live on the property.
“I was most worried about the animals and where they were, getting their minds straight,” Kristeen Millett said. “That was really scary.”
The fire was out within 10 to 15 minutes, Kristeen Millett said. As the firefighters left, they told the Milletts they were headed to another tree that caught fire.
The farm temporarily lost electricity and water access, but there were no injuries, and all animals were located. Overall, Kristeen Millett dubbed the thunderstorms an “amazing show.”
“It’s a way to wake up,” she said. “I’ve had less eventful Thursday mornings.”
After the thunderstorms and two days of hot weather that preceded them, Labor Day weekend figures to be relatively balmy.
Temperatures Friday are expected to reach 79 degrees, with a low of 59 degrees. High temperatures between Saturday and Monday will fall between 78 degrees and 80 degrees, with lows between 58 degrees and 63 degrees, according to the weather service.
The weekend should also be dry, Bowen said.
“So that’s good news for anyone who didn’t enjoy the thunderstorms,” she said.
Columbian staff writer Jerzy Shedlock contributed to this story.