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The Columbus Day Storm of 1962

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The Columbus Day Storm of 1962

The Pacific Northwest has a reputation for producing a lot of rain, but it’s not a place most people think of when it comes to brutal, destructive storm systems. For that, there’s the Gulf Coast, with its front row tickets to the Atlantic’s annual parade of tropical storms and hurricanes, or any of the various “tornado alleys” in the plains states. Unless you’re afraid of getting a little damp, Washington, Oregon, and northern California can seem pretty placid by comparison.

But on Columbus Day of 1962, something historic came ashore in the region, and it wasn’t the Niña, the Pinta, or the Santa Maria.

In early October of that year, a tropical storm named Freda formed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles away, eventually intensifying into a typhoon. While it is incredibly unusual for a typhoon — the term for a hurricane that forms in the western Pacific — to make landfall in the U.S. or Canada, Freda held strong, slamming into the West Coast with its powerful cyclonic winds.

The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 was not only one of the worst storms ever experienced by this region of North America, it is also counted among the most powerful extratropical cyclones to make landfall in the U.S. during the 20th century. Its ferocity was unmatched even by the so-called “Storm of the Century” that gripped the Eastern U.S. in March of 1993 or the 1991 Halloween Nor’easter immortalized in the book and film “The Perfect Storm.”

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The storm brought winds of up to 179 miles per hour, destroying weather stations, flattening homes, toppling countless square miles of trees, and devastating the power and transportation infrastructure throughout the region. At least 46 Americans and seven Canadians lost their lives to the storm, and in some coastal towns, homes that remained unscathed were rare.

New logging roads were carved through the countryside in an effort to salvage at least some fraction of the unprecedented amount of timber — tens of billions of board feet of lumber — felled by the storm.

In addition to the heavy winds, the storm dumped record amounts of rain on the region, creating landslides and delaying some games in the 1962 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees.

In all, the storm caused an estimated $200 million in damage in the U.S. — about $3 billion in today’s dollars. The bulk of that damage was focused on Oregon, which suffered the brunt of the storm’s fury. To the north, British Columbia suffered an additional $80 million in damage.

To this day, the storm remains a vivid reminder of the terrible power of nature for residents of the region who lived through it.

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1 Cindy { 10.13.16 at 12:13 am }

I remember the storm well. It is one of my first memories. I was 5. My mom was expecting a baby any day. We lived on a dairy on pole rd in lynden Washington. My dad and mom were up all night watching the trees blow down. My Dad and mom moved us kids to a bedroom with out south windows because they were afraid the windows were bowing in from the force of the wind. We lost electricity for about a week. My dad had to dump alot of milk. He had a generator to run the milkers but the milk trucks couldn’t get around because of the blocked roads.we had a huge orchard and about a third of all the fruit trees cam down.i think the scariest part was seeing how concerned my parents were. it left a big impression on me.

2 Robert Adams { 10.12.16 at 2:53 pm }

I was only 5 at the time but remember seeing a wicker clothes basket and a metal garbage can fly by our front porch door window, I also vagely remember the old house we lived in in Newberg was shaking and the windows rattled, my mom is amazed at what I remember for only being 5, I also remember dad warning us to stay away from the windows, it seem’d scary at the time.

3 Becky Cowley { 10.11.16 at 10:59 am }

Yes, I remember the Columbus Day Storm. It was 3 days before my 10th birthday (Oct. 15). And my birthday party had to be delayed a week. I was in 5th grade at Laurelhurst Elementary School. Mr. Duane Fluaitt was my teacher—we were let out early. The sky looked so strange and the wind got stronger and stronger. Very scary to me, especially when we watched the big tree across the street blow over and take down the power lines. I don’t remember how long the power was out, but it was kind of fun cooking over the fireplace.

4 Teresa Allen { 10.02.16 at 11:40 am }

I remember it well. I was in the 7th grade. We tried to get to the store in Scappose, OR to get groceries but by the time we got to town all the stores were closed. Also no kerosene for our lamps. Mom made homemade pudding on the trashburner in the kitchen for supper. Dad and Mom went out in the back of our house and cut down lots of alder trees with a two person crosscut saw to keep them from falling on the house. They would cut most of the way through, test the wind direction, and push the trees away from the house. We had enough wood for the stove for 3 years. Also I didn’t get to go roller skating at the school that night.

5 Luanne Whitaker { 09.29.16 at 6:06 pm }

After my parents sold our farm in rural Polk County, they bought a small home in Monmouth. I had just turned 17 years old and had been at classes at what was then OCE and walked home before the wind blew the top off Campbell Hall. What I remember most was that so many people couldn’t get home because the roads were blocked with debris and downed power lines.

6 Robin { 10.12.15 at 10:32 am }

Wow, I never knew about this. I do appreciate being to read what happened to individuals, and getting a perspective that is more personal than the newspaper printed. It gives a much better picture to read accounts of others. This is what I like about the internet, that something in history can be put up for all to read, and anyone who was there can give his or her story. Thank you everyone for sharing your stories with me and countless others!

7 Hanukkah Eve Storm | { 12.18.14 at 10:52 pm }

[…] The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 – Farmers’ Almanac …> Read about this deadly storm that slammed into the west coast over 50 years ago.. Source : The columbus day storm of 1962 – farmers’ almanac […]

8 SR { 10.12.14 at 11:48 am }

How about the East Coast? white out snow on the 26th of October, 1962 in Maine. Son born on that, his father couldn’t find his way to the hospital, got on a one way street the wrong way. Got ticketed

9 claudia G C Wade { 07.03.14 at 10:02 pm }

I was 19, living with my late foster aunt Clara and my late foster Leslie Cole in the Sellwood district of Portland Or. I had just seen Clara & Leslie off on a bus to the train station where they had caught a train to eastern Oregon. I was out on my greeting card route when the storm hit Portland. The 1st time that I realized that a storm had hit was when the wind blew off my red cloche hat and I had to chase after it. I spent part of the night at a friend’s hse til the storm was over. Then I spent the rest of the night in my room at Les and Clara’s hse.

My future hubby, Ralph told me he spent the night at an Oregon Journal newspaper station after he had finished his paper route. Ralph was 27 at the time. We met in 63 and married in 64.

10 Linda { 05.05.14 at 5:25 am }

I was 6 when this storm hit. It was one of the few times during my childhood that my dad wasn’t deployed and was home with us. We lived across the street from Alling park in Tacoma. I remember standing in the front Window watching the huge fir trees in the park being up rooted and crashing down. The park lost over half it’s trees that day. We played on them for days afterwards. It’s a day I will never forget.

11 Ray { 04.27.14 at 1:37 pm }

Typhoon Freda was one of my earliest childhood memories as I 3 at the time and living on Bainbridge Island. It was both scary and exciting at the same time. Looking out our living room window all I saw was dark as Seattle lost power.
SInce that time we moved out of the Pacific Northwest and to California due that being the mecca of aerospace. My dad was an aerospace engineer.
I have since moved back to the Seattle area and can tell you that major windstorms are common here. Including the Hanukkah Eve Storm in 2006.

12 Thomas Bingaman { 10.16.13 at 9:22 pm }

I remember the storm well. I was on patrol working for the City of Renton Police Dept. The wind was so strong there was a danger of the tall popular trees at each end of the Renton High & Hazen High memorial football stadium could be blown down. Chief of police Clarence Williams canceled the game and evacuated the stadium. Many trees in other parts of town were blown down causing much damage

13 Tom { 10.16.13 at 8:57 pm }

The wind was so strong and fierce there was a danger the trees surrounding the Renton Memorial High school Stadium would been blown down. Chief of Police Clarence Williams canceled the game and evacuated the Stadium

14 Michael Amato { 10.10.13 at 12:14 am }

It is not too uncommon for a typhoon to make it across the Pacific Ocean & make it to the west coast. I think one of the typhoons hit the Pacific Northwest this year. It was a pretty strong storm.

15 plainstuff { 10.09.13 at 11:23 pm }

I remember it well … slept right through it. Of course I’ve been known to sleep through strong earthquakes too. Strong enough to bounce my bed into the center of the room while I slept in it. 😃

16 Gypsy Brokenwings { 10.09.13 at 10:51 pm }

I was only a year old and remember how freaked out my mom was…goes to show traumatic events are remembered by the young.

17 ken { 10.09.13 at 5:05 pm }

I remember it well. We lived near A stand of virgin Douglas fir trees. They snapped off like toothpicks in the wind. 5 foot to 6 foot trees snapping like thunder.

18 Wendy { 10.09.13 at 4:33 pm }

I can remember the wind howling and I forced myself to go to sleep because I was terrified. i wish now that I hadn’t been such a baby lol. Would have loved to see the storm of the century in all its glory 🙂

19 William Davis { 10.09.13 at 2:19 pm }

I was 17 and a senior in high school, but do not remember the world series game delays. Also they did not keep broadcasting about weather of this magnitude . I did not know this had happened until today. Tech has really grown in the years since then. For better or worse…

20 Charlene { 10.09.13 at 1:50 pm }

I also wasn’t aware of this storm, but I was only 5 years old, and my mother is name Freda.

21 Del { 10.09.13 at 1:06 pm }

A freak wind from the top area of the NW Diamond Peak a, what I called a sweeper wind, stripped miles of young and old growth Fir trees in about a mile wide swath from the top down for about, as I recall about 40 -50 miles, it was a horrific site after Hiway 58 was reopened..

22 Lil { 10.09.13 at 12:56 pm }

I remember this storm very well!!!

23 Janet { 10.09.13 at 11:44 am }

I wasn’t aware of this storm. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

24 Patti { 10.09.13 at 10:18 am }

I was 12 years old when that storm hit Oregon. I lived in the Eugene/Creswell area. We were let out of school early because of the storm. Both my parents worked and so I had to walk 1/8 mile facing into the wind to get to our home after the bus let me off. When I arrived home, the key that was usually hidden so I could get in was not where it should have been. I went to the barn to try and bring the animals into the barn. After getting them in, as I was closing the barn door, a big gust of wind came and slammed the door shut on my hand. I had to lean heavily against the door to get it opened enough to get my hand loose. On the way back to the house, a sheet of metal corrugated roofing came floating through the air from our neighbor’s barn. I had to fall to the ground to keep from being hit by it. I finally found the key that let me into the house, but even though I am now turning 64 this month, I still remember how scared I was facing the storm alone until my parents were able to come home.

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