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Columbus Day windstorm ravages Puget Sound region on October 12, 1962.
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On October 12, 1962, Columbus Day, a windstorm ravages the Puget Sound region in what the National Weather service later designates as Washington's worst weather disaster of the twentieth century. More than 50 people are killed between Vancouver B.C. and San Francisco, nine in Washington.
The 1962 Columbus Day storm began its path as Typhoon Freda,
which formed in late September in the South Pacific and peaked on October 5. As
it traveled to the Northeast, it weakened into an extratropical storm near the
Aleutian Islands, but then regenerated and picked up speed as it veered south
towards the Western coast of the United States. No other climatological event
of this size and intensity had ever occurred before in the written history of
the Pacific Northwest, and has not since.
The storm hit landfall in northern California, and began
pounding Crescent City at 1:00 p.m. Gusts
of up to 63 miles an hour battered the state as far south as San Francisco,
postponing the sixth game of baseball's World Series at Candlestick Park. Power was knocked out along the entire
northern coast of the state, as even giant redwood trees toppled from the
forces of the winds. Before leaving the state, the storm killed 17 people.
Oregon is Hit Hard
In Oregon things got worse. Gusts at Capo Blanco were
clocked at close to 150 miles per hour, causing two section of Pacific High
School to be torn away in nearby Port Orford.
At Coos Bay, a 300-foot-tall electrical tower was torn from its
stanchions, sending a key 115,000 voltage line into the bay. Farther inland,
telephone lines were cut off in Grants Pass, and by nightfall long distance
lines were downed throughout the whole western half of the state.
Winds along the central Oregon coast reached speeds of up to
140 miles per hour. Corvalis saw speeds only slightly lower, but measurements
stopped there when the anemometer broke and the weather station began to tear
apart. By the time the storm hit Portland, gusts wear still roaring at over 120
miles per hour, toppling trees, power and telephone lines. In Portland, the
storm blew windows out of buildings and tore the roofs off of homes. Wood,
glass, and other chunks of debris were flying everywhere.
The storm hit Portland at the end of the work day. Dangerous road conditions and the loss of power
left many office workers trapped downtown. Local hotels were already at full
capacity for an Oregon State Beavers vs. Washington Huskies football game
planned for Saturday at Multnomah Stadium, and people lined the lobbies looking
for rooms in which to wait out the storm. Many did not know the full extent of the
damages because most of the local TV and radio stations were knocked out of
On the Portland waterfront, the 565-foot cargo ship Washington tore loose from its moorings
and drifted out into the harbor until its crew was able to drop two anchors. A
350-foot LST (a flat-bottomed vessel) broke free and sailed downriver until it got hung up on the
Hawthorne Bridge. On the Columbia River, two electrical towers toppled, cutting
power to both sides of the waterway.
At both the Portland International Airport, and Pearson
Field in Vancouver, over 175 aircraft were damaged as winds plowed north
into Washington. The storm was still strong, with gusts measured up to 92 miles
per hour in Vancouver, and over 100 miles per hour out on the Washington coast.
Four people died in Vancouver, two from falling trees, and two from heart
attacks. In Longview, 16 people were
injured by flying debris, and the city's civic center collapsed.
In Chehalis, the police chief was badly injured when an
airplane hangar blew apart at the airport while he was securing airplanes. The
storm reached Olympia shortly after 6:00 p.m.
On the Capitol grounds, the historic George Washington elm -- grown from
a cutting from the original George Washington tree -- uprooted and fell to the
ground. Out on the coast, wind speeds were as high as 81 miles per hour, as were
gusts in the cities along South Puget Sound. Two people were killed in Yelm by
a falling tree and a man died in Milton when he touched a downed power
The Wind and the Lion
In Tacoma, power went out in virtually every part of the
city, and many streets were blocked by falling trees. Near Spanaway, 7-year-old
Charles Brammer was outside with his parents as they checked their roof for
damage. His mother spotted an animal running in circles in a nearby field, and
thought it was a dog. Without warning it ran into the yard and attacked young
Charles. It was a lion.
The boy's mother immediately attacked the lion, beating it off
the child with her shoe. Charles was able to escape, but while running
toward the house, fell, cutting a huge gash in his forehead. The lion was one of
pair owned by Uwe McCallister of Spanaway. Both had gotten loose during the
storm, and were later destroyed by the police.
The center of the storm hit Seattle at around 7:00. At 7:45, the lights went out at Sea-Tac
Airport. Up and down Highway 99, billboards lay broken and trees lay in the road. Ferry runs were cancelled on Puget Sound, and smaller craft raced through
choppy waters looking for moorage.
Felt at the Fair
At the Seattle World's Fair, fair officials closed the
Coliseum at 7:30, worried that the glass windows might blow out. Throughout the
fairgrounds, loudspeakers blared that winds up to 80 miles per hour were
The Space Needle closed lines for the elevators, but diners
in the Eye of the Needle were allowed to finish their meals. People began
leaving the fairgrounds, many using umbrellas to guard their faces from flying
debris. Some folks decided to stay and flocked to the Food Circus, listening to
weather reports on their transistor radios.
All around the grounds, trees snapped, banners ripped, signs
were torn apart. The Science Pavilion's Gothic spires swayed noticeably. By 9, the Space Needle was empty of guests,
as gusts reached up to 60 miles per hour. At 9:15, officials closed the
exposition, but allowed those in the Food Circus to stay put if they lived
south of Seattle, where storm damage was worse. Although power outages were being
reported throughout Seattle, the lights at the fair stayed on.
The Storm Moves On
Communities east of Lake Washington
were plunged into darkness. In Issaquah, the roof was torn off the grandstand
at the city's Memorial Stadium. The only death reported in King County occurred
near North Bend when a tree fell on the truck of a Puget Sound Power and Light
As the storm moved northward, the winds abated slightly but
became no less deadly. In Snohomish County, a worker at the Sultan Dam was
killed by a falling tree. Eighty mile
per hour gusts were measured in Bellingham, before the storm moved into British
Columbia, where it killed five people before eventually subsiding.
Clean-up from the storm started the next day. Oregon
suffered the most hardships with initial damages estimates of over
$150 million. More than 150 families lost their homes, and more than one billion
board-feet of lumber toppled on state-owned forest lands. Fourteen people in
Oregon lost their lives, mostly from falling trees and flying debris.
In Portland, maintenance workers were called in to just
about every local school, many of which had severe roof or window damage. The
roof was torn of Multnomah Stadium, but the Oregon vs. Washington football
game was held anyway, even without the electric scoreboard.
In Washington, Pacific Northwest Bell reported 36,000
telephones out of service west of the Cascades. Train service between Seattle
and Portland was delayed until fallen trees could be removed from the tracks.
Electrical crews spent days restoring power to nine Western Washington
The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 was the most powerful
windstorm to hit the Northwest in modern times. More than 50 people were killed in
storm-related events, and damage costs went into the hundreds of millions of
"2 Die in City; 80-Mile Force Wreaks Havoc," The Oregonian, October 12, 1962, p. 1;
"17 Dead in Area's Worst Storm; Guard Called Out in Emergency," The Oregonian, October 12, 1962, p. 1; "NW's
Worst Disaster Lineman's Nightmare," The
Oregonian, October 12, 1962, p. 12; "It Was Just Another Storm.. Then
The Trees Began Flying," The
Oregonian, October 12, 1962, p. 12; "Damage High on Rivers as Moorings
Tear Loose," The Oregonian,
October 12, 1962, p. 12; "Crowds Jam City's Hotels," The Oregonian, October 12, 1962, p. 12;
"Gale Strikes Port Orford," The
Oregonian, October 12, 1962, p. 12; "High Winds Herald New Storm as 1
Dead," Seattle Post-Intelligencer,
October 13, 1962, p. 12; "32 Dead as Raging Storm Hits N.W.," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 13,
1962, p. 1; "Fairgoers File Out Reluctantly," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 13, 1962, p. 1; "Power out in Tacoma, Trees Block
Streets," Seattle Post-Intelligencer,
October 13, 1962, p. 2; "Washington
Elm Falls Before Wind in Olympia," Seattle
Post-Intelligencer, October 13, 1962, p. 3;
"Winds Whip Waters Here; Ferry Runs Halted," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 13,
1962, p. 4; "N. W. Mops Up After
Worst Storm," The Seattle Times,
October 13, 1962, p. 1; "Murderous Storm Lashes State," The Seattle Times, October 13, 1962, p.
1; "Gale-Force Winds Lash California Bringing Heavy Rains, Claiming Lives
of 7 Persons," The Oregonian,
October 13, 1962, p. 11; "Reporter Recounts Ordeal of Ride in Teeth of
Hurricane," The Oregonian,
October 13, 1962, p. 13; "Damage High at Portland Area Schools," The Oregonian, October 13, 1962, p. 13;
"TV Stations Knocked Out," The
Oregonian, October 13, 1962, p. 13; "3 Dead, $1 million Loss in
Storm," The Tacoma News Tribune,
October 13, 1962, p. 1; "Pet Lions
Attack Woman, Boy," The Tacoma News
Tribune, October 13, 1962, p. 1; "Disaster
Leaves Northwest Groggy," The
Oregonian, October 14, 1962, p. 1; "Giant Mop-Up Project Begins in
Gale's Wake," The Oregonian,
October 14, 1962, p. 1; "Storm Refugees, Visitors Jam Hotels, Restaurants," The Oregonian, October 14, 1962, p. 37;
"175 Planes Casualties of Typhoon in One of Flying's Darkest Days," The Oregonian, October 14, 1962, p. 39;
"Vancouver, Clark County Residents Clear Debris," The Oregonian, October 14, 1962, p. 43; "After
the Big Storm," Seattle
Post-Intelligencer, October 14, 1962, p. 1; "Storm Toll: 9 Dead in
Post-Intelligencer, October 14, 1962, p. 1;
"Storm Mop-Up to Take Weeks," The Tacoma News Tribune, October 14, 1962, p. 1; "150
Families in Oregon Left Homeless by Wind," The Oregonian, October 15, 1962, p. 1; The "Big Blow" of
Columbus Day 1962, website accessed on July 29, 2012 (http://www.climate.washington.edu/stormking/October1962.html).
Note: This essay replaces an earlier essay on the same subject.
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