By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

If tornado hits, we 'stop the presses'

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We don’t really yell out “Stop the presses!” in our newsroom, but that’s the simple message to our production line when a big story breaks on deadline. It’s rare for us to have an extended delay, but not so rare, it turns out, as a tornado in Oregon.

Minutes before last Thursday afternoon’s deadline for the Friday issue, an EF1 tornado touched down in the Northeast Gateway district, just blocks from our office. No way — Internet or no Internet — was our news department putting out a newspaper without photos and a story of that extraordinary event.

In a 90-minute span, our staff went to the scene, snapped and processed photos, interviewed witnesses and officials, wrote the story and remade pages on the computer. Meanwhile, the initial 35-word post on our Facebook page announcing the tornado touch-down had more than 20,000 views.

Tornadoes are rare in Oregon — about two a year — but the United States has far more than any country in the world, about 1,200 annually. One report I found said Canada is a distant second with 100.

In mid-May, I contacted my friend in Granbury, Texas, learning that his family home and newspaper offices had narrowly avoided the path of that town’s massive, deadly tornado. More recently, we all gasped at the immense power of an EF5 tornado in Oklahoma, dwarfing the limited damage here in McMinnville.

The country has its “Tornado Alley” running from Texas to Canada, centered in the areas of Oklahoma, Kansas and northern Texas, and the so-called “Dixie Alley” in our southern states.

Oregon has had 100-plus tornadoes since 1950, including just four rated above EF1. That Enhanced Fujita scale actually rates the damage a tornado does rather than being strictly related to winds, but associated wind speeds are 86 to 110 for EF1, to 135 for EF2, to 165 for EF3, to 200 for EF4 and over 200 for EF5

An EF2 tornado killed six cows near Newberg in 1993, one hit Aumsville in 2010, and there was one in the far northeast corner of Oregon in 1968. The state’s sole EF3 tornado hit Portland-Vancouver in 1972, killing six, injuring more than 300 and doing millions of dollars of damage.

By comparison, the McMinnville tornado was tame. But it easily ranked among the most prominent recent events in our community, and we would have held the presses as long as necessary to cover the story for Friday’s edition.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@news or 503-687-1223.

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