Welcome to Washington! Part of the Pacific Northwest and Puget Sound, Pierce County is in western Washington, with King County to the north, Thurston County to the west, Lewis County to the south and Yakima County to the east.
Pierce County has an estimated population of nearly 861,312. The county is home to Tacoma, which is the county seat, Lakewood, Puyallup, Spanaway and University Place, as well as Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The county offers many historical and cultural attractions, plus modern amenities. In addition to the beautiful Tacoma waterfront and Mount Rainier, there are museums and parks. Outdoor activities abound, including camping, fishing, golfing, hiking, skiing and snowboarding.
There are also shopping, dining and nightlife opportunities for residents to explore. Annual events and festivals celebrate everything from Puyallup’s daffodils to the area’s military heroes and showcase the majesty of Washington.
The first settlers of the land that would become Pierce County were the ancestors of today’s Nisqually, Puyallup, Squaxin, Steilacoom, and Muckleshoot tribes, with Puyallup villages predominating near what would later become Tacoma and Nisqually settlements in what would become southern Pierce County. These tribes settled the area many thousands of years ago, where the saltwater, lakes and rivers provided an abundant source of food.
These same tribes were all in place when English sea captain George Vancouver sailed the inland waters as far south as what would one day be Seattle. He instructed his lieutenant, Peter Puget, to continue exploring southward in smaller boats. The inland waters were named Puget Sound in the young naval officer’s honor.
In 1832, the Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Nisqually 3 miles north of the Nisqually River. Soon the fort expanded to include a farm and a cattle and sheep ranch, and it became an important trading place for a variety of tribal peoples. In 1838, the United States Navy assembled a fleet of ships for a voyage of exploration. In 1841, Lt. Charles Wilkes and his crews reached Fort Nisqually. From there, Wilkes sent out several surveying parties. One group explored and charted the waters of Puget Sound, giving many of the places the names they bear today, including Commencement Bay. The Fort Nisqually property was turned over to American control in 1859. It was also around this time that early settlers began tapping the vast resources in the area for the timber trade, shipping lumber to San Francisco.
The Oregon Territorial Legislature established Pierce County on Dec. 22, 1852, and designated Steilacoom, the former site of an Army fort, as the county seat. Later, in 1880, Pierce County residents voted to move the county seat to New Tacoma (now Tacoma).
When the Northern Pacific Railroad announced in 1873 that its northwest terminus would locate in Tacoma, the city and surrounding county rapidly grew into a regional leader. Lumber continued to reign, and numerous other Pierce County towns were founded during this time — many built around the success of their local sawmills. This period also saw the founding of two of the county’s colleges, Pacific Lutheran University and University of Puget Sound.
An economic depression hit the region in 1893, causing 17 Tacoma banks to close their doors. William Fife, who had grown his fortune and then lost it all, left the area to seek after more faraway gold. Many joined him. From 1893 to 1900, the population of the county shrank by 30 percent. But it didn’t take long for the region to recover. World War I brought an industrial boom as the region’s lumber was used in local shipyards. The U.S. Army built Camp Lewis on 70,000 acres of land on the Nisqually plain purchased by Tacoma voters. In November 1918, the voters also created the Port of Tacoma, which began improving industrial waterways and facilities.
The City of Tacoma opened Tacoma Field/Pierce County Airport in 1929. In 1938 the state of Washington transferred the property to the United States government for use as an Army Air Force base. During World War II, McChord Field was the largest B-25 bomber training base in the country. At the conclusion of the war, McChord Field became home to the 62nd Military Airlift Wing and the 446th Military Airlift Wing. In 1948 the facility was re-designated as McChord Air Force Base.
World War II increased demands for shipyard work in the Port of Tacoma and agricultural products from the Puyallup valley. Reflecting a national mood of fear and lingering discrimination, the Puyallup Fairgrounds temporarily became an internment camp for many local citizens of Japanese descent. World War II also brought a huge influx of African Americans to the region, in the form of shipyard workers and returning veterans.
From the 1950s until today, both the county and its incorporated cities have all continued to grow. Beginning in the 1990s, Pierce County and Tacoma adopted a new image beginning in what has been called the Tacoma Renaissance. Starting with the Tacoma Dome and a campus of the University of Washington, downtown Tacoma saw the addition of a new U.S. courthouse (out of the old Union Station) and art museum, a new Washington State History Museum, the Museum of Glass, a transit center and a revitalized theater district, all tied together with a light rail line.
Pierce County’s population increased about 16 percent between 1990 and 2000, and as of 2006 it continues to increase steadily. Employment in education and health services has increased as a result. Government, business and leisure services; the construction industry; goods-production; and the wholesale and retail trade industries are significant employers in Pierce County. As Washington’s third-largest city, Tacoma has become a regional center for Pacific Rim shipping, forest products, high technology and the arts.
State of Washington
Division of Emergency Management
The Washington Emergency Management Division leads and coordinates mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery in Washington state to minimize the impact of disasters and emergencies on the people, property, environment and economy. Visit the division’s website for a severe weather awareness guide and other preparedness information.
Washington State Patrol
The Washington State Patrol, the state police agency, is one of two state law enforcement agencies considered to be a general authority law enforcement agency, the other being the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The nearly 600 individual WSP officers patrol highways daily and are known as troopers although they are frequently colloquially referred to as staters. More than 1,000 additional civilian employees include investigative support staff, such as crime lab technicians, and those who work for the state fire marshal.
The Pierce County Department of Emergency Management Department of Emergency Management to create sustainable communities and enhance public safety by empowering all who work, govern, live in and visit Pierce County to prevent, mitigate, prepare for, respond to and recover from all types of hazards, emergencies and disasters. Visit the office’s website for the county’s disaster planning guide and other disaster preparedness information.
WEATHER AND CLIMATE
While the Pacific Northwest is known for rain, Pierce County enjoys a temperate climate. The county only receives an average of 39.9 inches of rainfall each year (less than the cities of Miami, Houston, New York and Boston). The wettest month is December, and the driest is July. Most rainfall happens between October and March.
The warmest month in Pierce County is August, with highs in the upper 70s and average lows in the mid-50s. The coldest month is December, with average highs in the upper 40s and average lows in the mid to high 30s.
Every second counts in a disaster so planning and preparation can be lifesavers.
The Washington State Department of Health’s Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response responds to acts of bioterrorism, outbreaks of infectious disease and other large-scale public health emergencies or mass casualty incidents. Their website gives information on how to prepare for a variety of emergency scenarios and has a list of local, state and federal numbers to call during an emergency. Visit www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/EmergencyPreparednessandResponse for more information on local disaster preparedness.
The following are considered significant hazards in Washington.
Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States. Even beyond coastal regions, flash floods, inland flooding and seasonal storms affect every region of the country, damaging homes and businesses. It is dangerous to underestimate the force and power of water.
During a flood watch or warning, gather your emergency supplies and stay tuned to local radio or TV stations for further weather information. If you are outdoors during a rainstorm, seek higher ground. Avoid walking through any floodwaters — even water 6 inches deep can sweep you off your feet. If you are driving, avoid flooded areas. The majority of deaths in floods occur when people drive through flooded areas. Roads concealed by water may not be intact. Water only a foot deep can displace a vehicle. If your vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and seek higher ground. Rapidly rising water can engulf a vehicle and sweep it away.
For more information on how to stay safe during a flood, visit www.cdc.gov/disasters/floods.
Some exposure to sunlight is good, even healthy, but too much can be dangerous. Broad-spectrum ultraviolet radiation, listed as a known carcinogen by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, can cause blistering sunburns, as well as long-term problems like skin cancer, cataracts and immune suppression. Overexposure also causes wrinkling and premature aging of the skin.
Cloud cover reduces UV levels, but not completely. Depending on the thickness of the cloud cover, you can still burn on a cold and dim day, so be prepared with sunglasses, sunscreen, long-sleeved garments and wide-brimmed hats.
While more likely at certain times of the year, thunderstorms can happen anytime. A severe thunderstorm can knock out power; bring high winds, lightning, flash floods and hail; and turn into a twister in seconds. Pay attention to storm warnings. Remember the rule: “When thunder roars, head indoors.” The National Weather Service recommends following the 30/30 rule: People should seek shelter if the “flash-to-bang” delay — the length of time in seconds from the sight of the lightning flash to the arrival of its subsequent thunder — is 30 seconds or less, and remain under cover for 30 minutes after the final thunderclap.
For more safety information, visit www.cdc.gov/disasters/lightning.
Prepare for winter storms by assembling a disaster supply kit for your home and vehicle. Have your car winterized before the winter storm season arrives. Listen to weather forecasts and plan ahead.
When winter storms and blizzards hit, dangers include strong winds, blinding snow and frigid wind chills. Avoid unnecessary travel during storm watches and warnings and stay indoors.
Winter storms can also cause power outages. During a power outage, gather in a central room with an alternative heat source. Use fireplaces, wood stoves and other heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside. Never use an electric generator or a gas or charcoal grill indoors. The fumes are deadly. If you use a space heater, keep the heater 3 feet from any object that may catch fire (drapes, furniture or bedding) and never leave it unattended. Avoid letting pipes freeze and rupture by leaving faucets slightly open so they drip continuously.
For more information on winter preparedness and winterizing your home and vehicles, visit www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter.