I grew up in western Oregon. It seemed, at least in terms of natural threats, a bucolic place in which to spend my youth. For instance, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes there were about as common as the Northern Lights in Georgia. Hurricanes were nonexistent. Such storms are born over warm oceans. If you’ve ever dipped a toe into the Pacific along the Oregon coast, you know it’s water in which Polar Bear Plungers could train even in August.
There were the occasional big winter storms, of course. But they certainly didn’t bear the DNA common to the meteorological monsters that inhabit other parts of the nation. I did, incidentally, experience the Northwest’s “Big Blow” in 1962 that hurled winds over 100 mph into Portland. Scary, but hardly Cat-5 stuff.
We’d get decent snowstorms once in awhile, too. But true blizzard conditions were rare (see Northern Lights comment above.)
Earthquakes? I recall a decent little shake in the late ‘40s, but Northwesterners didn’t dwell on such things. After all, we didn’t live on the San Andreas Fault. Like I said, western Oregon seemed to me Nature’s Camelot.
No, we didn’t live on the San Andreas Fault. It turned out, I discovered only a few years ago, something much more threatening lurked beneath us: the Cascadia Subduction Zone.
After I graduated from the University of Washington, life’s events sent me away from the great Northwest. I ended up, not by design, spending my adult years on the East Coast in areas ranging from New England to the Southeast. Still, I frequently journeyed back to the Motherland.
On one of my return trips to the Oregon coast, maybe about ten years ago, I noticed some signs similar to those you see along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts that proclaim HURRICANE EVACUATION ROUTE. The signs in the Beaver State, however, said TSUNAMI EVACUATION ROUTE. Really? My interest was piqued. Not quite to the extent I thought about doing a novel, but I certainly was curious and began asking questions.
Then, roughly two years ago, my brother Rick, who lives part time in the coastal town of Manzanita, put me in touch with a digital news article headlined “Massive earthquake threatens Pacific Northwest.” I read and reread the article, stunned by its dire implications.
The material I’d studied about Ebola, in doing research for my novel PLAGUE, was scary. But this stuff about the Cascadia Subduction Zone was even more frightening because it involved something that will happen–a huge quake and tsunami à la Japan–not something that might happen, or something that happens only in the mind of a novelist.
At any rate, Cascadia (the fault) ignited my imagination and launched me on the journey that lead to CASCADIA (the novel). Look for it this coming summer.
IMAGE: The northern Oregon coast, where much of CASCADIA is set.