Category: Pacific-Northwest

Columbus Day Storm

October 12, 1962, Columbus Day. Oregonians had no reason to expect this day to be any different from any other federal holiday. The weather that time of year is generally mild, though often cold and rainy. The big winter storms are yet to hit. But October 12, 1962, Colubmbus Day, was to deliver a meteorlogical event that would stand alone in Oregon history.

Out in the Pacific, remnants of Typhoon Freda, moving northeastward from the Philippines, split off and approached the California coast. The new storm formed of these remnants stopped moving, intensified, then began moving slowly northward just off the coast.

Meanwhile, on October 11, a low pressure trough off the Oregon coast created a wind storm which moved northward and northeastward, providing only a foretaste of things to come.

The Portland Weather Bureau issued advance warning of the approaching storm 10 a.m. the morning of the 12th. Although the Weather Bureau followed up with bulletins, most residents failed to get the information and were caught off guard by the intense destructive power of the storm.

By the time the storm reached the Oregon coast on the afternoon of the 12th, its central pressure was dropping lower and lower, finally reaching 28.42 inches. Hurricane force winds ravaged the coasts of Northern California, Oregon and Washington. At Mt. Hebo in the Coast Range, wind speeds of 131 mph were recorded before the anemometer was destroyed by the winds. Even stronger winds laid waste inland. On the Morrison Street bridge in Portland, winds gusted to 116 mph; in Naselle, Washington they reached 160 mph.

Throughout the state trees, houses, and power lines were destroyed. Towers over 500 feet high holding the main power lines into Portland were knocked down. Centuries-old trees were uprooted. Before their equipment stopped working due to power failure, the Portland Weather Bureau recorded winds of 80 miles per hour midway through the storm. The Coast Guard station at Yaquina Bay was abandoned after the wind gauge topped out at 120 mph, the gauge’s highest mark, remaining at that mark for at least five minutes.

The storm was not confined to the coast and Willamette Valley. It had enough power to continue on over the mountains, affecting inland counties such as Josephine and Jackson. In Medford winds topped out at 58 mph toppling trees and power poles.

Even after the main force of the Columbus Day Storm had passed, it was not yet over. A third storm, similar to the first storm followed in the path of the main force. However, it caused very little damage as most of the trees and buildings that could be damaged already were.

The first night of the storm, Governor Mark Hatfield called out 1,000 National Guardsmen to guard against looting and to help in the cleanup. In Salem at the Oregon Supreme Court building, a huge stained-glass skylight was smashed. At the Oregon State Hospital, the roof of the main building was torn off by the force of the storm, exposing the maximum security wards for men and women.

Damage in the Gold Beach area at the Oregon coast totaled more than $1 million. At Tillamook dairy farmers lost more than 100 cows and hundreds of chickens, as two large barns and four sheds were flattened. In Astoria a tuna cannery was destroyed. KGW-TV’s 600-foot broadcasting tower in the West Hills of Portland was reduced to a pile of twisted metal. The Red Cross estimated that 84 homes were completely destroyed, 5,000 severely damaged, and 50,000 moderately damaged. Total damages were estimated at $170 million. Some residents were without power for 2 to 3 weeks. In Oregon 35 people and in Northern California 18 people were said to have died due to the violence of the Columbus Day Storm.

Sources: The Columbian, www.columbian.com/
George H. Taylor, State Climatologist, www.ocs.orst.edu/
Hank Henry The Mail Tribune www.mailtribune.com

© 2001-2006, originally published Jul 24, 2001