Skip to main content

Hazards in Oregon

The beauty and splendor of Oregon make it a great place to live, but our state has its share of extreme weather, floods, wildfires, earthquakes and even tornadoes. Under the best of circumstances government agencies and other emergency organizations can’t protect you from disaster. It’s our responsibility as individuals, neighborhoods and communities to be aware of hazards and risks, to prepare for the critical period immediately following a disaster, and to make sure that disaster preparedness has the high priority it deserves. By becoming informed of the hazards in Oregon, we can take actions to protect ourselves, reduce losses and recover quickly.

Oregon’s snow-capped mountains, rugged coast and dramatic vistas are some of the geologic forces that make our state a beautiful place to live – and to visit. But did you know that Oregon is one of the most earthquake-prone areas in the continental United States?
 
Over the years, Oregon has had a series of earthquakes, large and small. Small (less than 3.0 magnitude) occur often although may not be felt. Larger quakes, like the 5.6 magnitude Scotts Mills earthquake in 1993, affected thousands of people and caused more than $30 million in damage in the Portland metro area. A Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake has the potential to reach a magnitude of 9 or higher, can last up to five minutes, and will likely create a series of devastating tsunami waves along the coast.
 
Earthquakes can strike suddenly, without warning and at any time of the year. Know your risks and what to do to stay safe, and to prepare your home or workplace to survive an earthquake.
 
To learn more, check out our earthquakes page.

While Oregon enjoys a fairly moderate climate, temperatures can soar in the summer, especially in the southern part of the state and east of the Cascades. High temperatures, humidity and hot, indoor environments can quickly cause heat-related emergencies. Excessive heat can lead to sunburn, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

 
Steps to beat the heat:
  • Stay informed and listen to NOAA Weather Radio for updates from the National Weather Service.
  • Never leave children or pets alone in vehicles. The temperature inside can reach a dangerous level within a few minutes.
  • Drink more water than usual – even if you’re not thirsty.
  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Avoid working outdoors; if you must do so, take frequent breaks and use the buddy system.
  • Check on family, friends and neighbors who do not have air conditioning, who spend much of their time alone, or who are more likely to be affected by the heat.
  • If possible, bring animals inside. If not, frequently check to ensure they are comfortable and have water and a shady place to rest.
During periods of high heat, more and more people visit local lakes, rivers, pools and the coast to cool off.
 
  • Be careful around moving water which may be much faster and stronger than it appears. This can swiftly push you downstream or exhaust strong swimmers. Be honest with yourself about your swimming abilities.
  • Don’t blindly jump into unfamiliar water. Underwater obstacles can cause significant injury or death. Always jump feet first especially this year with severely low water levels.
  • Never swim alone. Always swim with others, preferably in a supervised or lifeguarded area.
  • Wear a lifejacket. They are simple to use and can prevent most drowning events. Make sure jackets are properly fitted and contain a U.S. Coast Guard Approved label.
  • Know how to respond to a water emergency. Swimmers in distress need help immediately; reach or throw, don’t go. Call 9-1-1.
 
Resources
Additional resources for
heat waves, and swimming safely in lakes, rivers and streams are available from the American Red Cross.

When heavy or steady rain soaks the ground over several hours or days, floods may occur. Floods are one of the most common hazards in the county. Their effects can be local or affect entire parts of the state. Depending on rainfall, the level of ground saturation and the location of rivers and streams, floods may develop slowly, over a period of days. But flash floods can occur suddenly due quick-rising water along a steam or a low-lying area.

Heavy rain and flooding may cause a landslide. People, structures and roads located below steep slopes in canyons and near the mouths of canyons may be in danger.

Flood safety tips:
  • Listen to area radio and television stations and a NOAA weather radio for flood warnings and reports.
  • Be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
  • When a flood or flash-flood warning is issued for your area, head for higher ground and stay there.
  • If you come upon flowing water that is above your ankles, stop, turn around and go another way. Six inches of swift-moving water can sweep you off your feet.
  • If you enter a flooded road when driving, turn around and go the other way. If you are caught and waters are rising around you, get out of the car and move to higher ground. Many cars can be swept away by less than two feet of moving water.
  • Avoid areas where landslides are likely to occur. This includes canyon bottoms, bases of steep hillsides, roads and areas where slopes of hills have been excavated or over-steepened.
  • Standard homeowner’s insurance often doesn’t cover flooding. Talk with your insurance agent to learn what you may need to do to be safe.
 
Resources
Tsunamis are a real hazard for coastal communities in Oregon. Whether the tsunami travels the great distance across the Pacific Ocean to reach our shores or is caused by a local megathrust earthquake, everyone should planning for what they will do during such an event.
 
A tsunami is a series of waves or surges most often caused by a large offshore earthquake or landslide. The shift in the earth during a quake may make the coastal water recede and then rise up several feet, striking the shore with great force. They can be local, arriving in minutes of an earthquake, or distant, taking several hours to reach the shore.
 
OEM works with the hospitality industry on the Oregon Coast to help educate visitors about tsunami awareness through the Tsunami Safe: Hospitality begins with Safety program.
 
To learn more, check out our tsunami page.
The Cascade mountain range rises from northern California to British Columbia in Canada. Consisting of many volcanoes, these beautiful mountains are also a hazard that is monitored by the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington. In Cascade Range vicinity, the number of people at immediate risk during eruptions is greater than at any other volcanic area within the United States.
 
To learn more, check out our volcano page.
Dense forests and open plains are home to people and a variety of wildlife in Oregon. However, severe drought, which Oregon has experienced for several years, can increase the chance of wildfire and create conditions for deadly wildfires. While 2016 was a fairly uneventful year in terms of wildfires in Oregon, with a total of 807 fires burning 5,554 acres, the volatile fire seasons from 2013-2015 accounted for an annual average of 81,467 acres and about $88 million in fire suppression costs.

Learn about wildfire risk in your area. Also, take care with campfires, when using equipment that may cause sparks in dry areas, or when burning yard debris. Conduct these activities during daylight hours and under calm conditions. Never leave a burn pile or campfire unattended, and always put the fire completely out before leaving. Residents should contact their local fire department before conducting any burning as restrictions vary among local fire districts.
 

Winter storms occur every year in Oregon. They can range from moderate cold winds and low temperatures to heavy snowfall, freezing rain and icy roads. The good thing about winter storms is that they can be predicted in advance, allowing you to get prepared, and become familiar with what to do before, during and after a storm.

 
Know the difference between a winter storm advisory, a watch and a warning.
 
Winter storm safety tips:
  • Avoid any unnecessary travel. If you have to travel, be sure to have an emergency kit in your vehicle and drive cautiously. Less traffic on the roads will allow first responders and maintenance crews to provide critical services more effectively.
  • If you are going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home set to a temperature no lower than 55 degrees F.
  • Prevent frostbite and hyperthermia. Dress in several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing. Stay inside if possible.
  • Bring pets/companion animals inside during winter weather. Make sure livestock are sheltered, and have access to food and water.
 
Resources
 
Power outages
Winter storms often cause power outages. This may be due to high winds, downed trees or icy conditions. Be sure that your emergency kit is well stocked with food, water, flashlights, batteries, blankets and comfort items. If the power goes off:
 
  • Check your fuse box or circuit breaker box. If there are no blown fuses or tripped circuits, check to see if your neighbors are without power.
  • Call your power company to report the outage. Some utilities offer ways to report outages online or by text.
  • Turn off all electrical equipment including your water heater, electric furnace or heaters, stove, stereo or TV, etc., to help prevent overloading the system when the power is restored.
  • Keep refrigerators and freezers closed to minimize food loss.
  • If a family member depends on medical life-support equipment, a back-up generator is important to consider in case of an extended power outage. Be familiar with generator safety.

Your browser is out-of-date! It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how

×