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Tornado with 100-m.p.h. winds hits Seattle and Juanita on September 28, 1962.

HistoryLink.org Essay 886 : Printer-Friendly Format

On September 28, 1962, at about 5:55 p.m. a 100 mph tornado hits the Sand Point area of Seattle. This is the first confirmed tornado in Western Washington. In 15 minutes the tornado damages eight houses in the View Ridge and Sand Point area of Seattle, forms a 100-foot-high waterspout while crossing Lake Washington, smacks into homes, and topples 70 trees in Juanita.

A witness sighted two clouds merging to form a gray funnel cloud at roughly 70th Street NE and 25th Avenue NE. The funnel reached the ground at 5:55 p.m. with 100-m.p.h. winds at the northern edge of the View Ridge Playfield near where boys were playing football. At least one boy was lifted off the ground. It knocked down three fences before reaching the house at 7308 44th Avenue NE.

Carport Exits Ground, Table Flies

Mary Gates, who was just going out the door to attend a dinner party, stated, "All of a sudden the wind started to swirl and our house began to vibrate ... . I saw our carport go up over the roof. The noise was deafening" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). The carport rose up over the house and sailed over her backyard to neighbor's yard. It destroyed the fence between them. Mary Gates, the interviewee, was the wife of William Henry Gates Sr. and mother to Kristanne, age 9 and "Trey" (William H. Gates III), age 7, who grew up to co-found and lead the Microsoft Corporation.

The tornado then touched Clarence Saunto's roof at 7314 45th Avenue NE, lifting off a 900 square-foot section of the roof. One hundred pound hunks of roof scattered across the yard. It then approached 7309 46th Avenue NE, the home of newspaper reporter Stanton Patty, removed 20 percent of his roof, and toppled trees. Rains immediately following left one inch of water on the floor of the house.

At John Jensen's house at 7315 46th Avenue NE, the tornado blew into the large master bedroom window and sent papers, cosmetics, the alarm clock, and other small objects swirling to the floor. It knocked the bedroom door off its hinge. Eleven-year-old Ray Jensen, who was in the basement, said, "I saw a table flying through the air like a bird and I saw shingles flying all over" (The Seattle Times, September 29, 1962).

At the Norm Greenbaum house at 7314 46th Avenue NE, two children ages 3 and 5 were watching television in the living room. Mrs. Greenbaum, who was in another room, stated, "I heard a BOOM. I thought it was a sonic boom from an airplane, and then a crash as the picture window and our bedroom windows went out" (The Seattle Times, September 29, 1962). The children were showered by glass shards from the picture window but were not injured. The tornado damaged a home at 7320 46th Ave NE.

More Fences, More Trees, Roofs, Cars

Then Mrs. Arthur Ward, driving up to her home at 7326 47th Ave NE, saw debris "slam into the front door of [her] home, nearly ripping the door from its hinges. Inside, the debris ricocheted like shrapnel, doing hundreds of dollars in damage to a newly redecorated interior" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

The tornado jumped a few blocks and struck airplane Hanger 27 at Sand Point Naval Air Station. It ripped off asphalt and tar from a 210 x 400 foot section of the roof. Falling debris damaged 15 cars. All of this happened in about three minutes.

The Waterspout

The tornado then traveled across Lake Washington as a waterspout. A witness said, "It looked like fog at first because it was so white." She continued, "Then you could see it whirling and the water boiling up into big waves" (The Seattle Times, September 29, 1962). One witness estimated the waterspout was about 100 feet high. It took about seven minutes to cross the lake and slam into Juanita.

Around 6 p.m., Mrs. D. O. Smith and her 14-year-old son Ken watched from their waterfront home as a funnel cloud formed over the lake and headed straight for their neighborhood. "The water danced up and down without waves," noted Mrs. Smith.

They Watched in Amazement

As they watched in amazement, trees started whipping right and left, and suddenly down. Sand and debris pelted their home. Without warning, their porch struts collapsed. When the Smiths looked up, the porch roof was nowhere to be seen.

A three-foot-thick madrona leaning out over the water bent backward, and a fir tree splintered and fell to the ground. The twister moved deeper into the hillside and, at least for the Smiths, the worst had passed.

Farther inland, shingles flew off nearby homes. Trees flopped one way, and then the other. George Watson, who had gone outside to check the drainage on a recently poured concrete slab, was smacked hard in the chest by a flying branch, leaving him sore but unscratched. He looked up and heard a thunderous noise as three trees near the road were ripped out by the roots and swiped down. The screaming maelstrom dug further into the hillside and deeper into the neighborhood.

Garbage cans launched into the air. Young trees were plucked out of the ground and sent flying, and older trees snapped and splintered. Branches, rocks, and the remains of porches, roofs, and sheds shattered windows and pummeled homes.

In keeping with the chaos of tornadoes, some items were left untouched. Annabel Searle, a correspondent for the East Side Journal saw trees lifted 30 feet into the air, but an empty pop bottle on her patio remained standing and unscathed. Her geraniums snapped off at the roots, but a nearby lawn rake was left leaning against an untouched tree. A basketball backboard blew into pieces, but an empty gas can at its base was undisturbed.

The twister continued on erratically toward the top of Finn Hill, following gullies and culverts. Mrs. Roger Cross looked out her window and saw it coming. The funnel was high and full of debris. Hundreds of birds swirled within the detritus, screaming to get out, but to no avail.

The whirling dervish bore down. Window frames stacked near the Cross home were lifted and heaved into a nearby corn patch, shattering. Treetops popped off one by one. Boards and branches filled the howling air.

Seconds later, it was all over. The finger of wind that had chiseled down from the sky retracted atop the summit of Finn Hill, and complacently spun back into the mass of roiling gray clouds of what should have been a typical late-summer storm. Most folks who saw the tornado described its passage as occurring in fewer than 30 seconds, total. Nevertheless, they would remember this brief moment in time for the rest of their lives.

The following day, they examined the damage. With no injuries to speak of and with insurance to cover most of the property loss, many folks laughed it off with a sigh of relief. For years to come, each of them had thrilling stories of the day that Bouncing Betty stopped by for a brief, yet exciting, visit.

Sources:
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 29, 1962, pp. 1, 4; The Seattle Times, September 29, 1962, p. A; The Seattle Times, September 30, 1962, p. B; Aaron Boyd, Smart Money: The Story of Bill Gates (Grensboro: Morgan Reynolds, 1995); East Side Journal October 4, 1962, p. 3.


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