The National Weather Service confirmed gusts up to 55 mph hit the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport about 6:15 p.m. Thursday, as well as a shelf cloud associated with heavy winds.
There are other reports of a wall cloud rotating in a way consistent with how tornadoes are formed, but that has not been confirmed.
Tornado or not, the winds did damage in Pendleton. Roofs and buildings were impacted and trees and power lines were down on SE 8th and SE 9th streets. An old barn was toppled in the Riverside neighborhood. Power was knocked out in some parts of Pendleton, Weston and Milton-Freewater, among others.
The National Weather Service said the Walla Walla Airport clocked a high wind of 52 mph.
Helix recorded a 79 mph at 6:40 p.m.
Yet for those in the heart of the storm, it seemed much more powerful.
David Tachella said he was working outside with his stepson on SE 9th Street when the wind whipped up around them, forcing them to take refuge in a truck. The winds passed loudly but quickly, and when it was over they noticed a neighbor’s camp trailer had has crashed down into the bed of their truck. Tachella estimated it had been thrown about 30 yards, out of a neighbor’s yard.
They were not injured, but shaken up.
“I’ve lived here all my life and never seen anything like that,” Tachella said.
Nathan Gomez, who lives on SE 9th street, said he was on his deck watching the weather blow in with his son.
“All the sudden it was changing, (stuff) was getting lifted up and it was starting to grow,” he said. He saw paper, dirt, garbage cans and other small trash moving up toward the sky.
“You could see how big it was,” he said. “The rotation was coming right at us.”
He rushed to get him and his 13-year-old son into their trailer, and they watched out the window.
“It came between our trailer and the neighbor’s,” he said. “It was rotating, stuff was flying, it was pretty intense.”
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.