By Don R. Best
If you are old enough to remember, what are your stories of the Columbus Day storm of October 12, 1962?
What I was doing was loading a shingle truck, a 45 foot semi truck & trailer at the Lake Lytle Shingle Mill behind Lake Lytle.
My father, Lewis Best and a good friend, Frank Chimenti were in the long 45’ trailer and I was
putting shingle bundles onto a conveyor belt that extended into the trailer. As the storm became stronger and
stronger, one gust tipped the trailer over so far I could see daylight under all the tires on the left side of the
trailer. Dad and Frank came running out of the trailer in a hurry. We had the trailer one-half loaded with about
28,000 lbs of shingles and the driver said, “Load up this trailer with as many bundles as you can… 13 high all the
way to the back”….. Which we did all during the rest of the storm. As I recall this storm hit around 5:30pm
when it became more than just “another storm”.
Seven years later I was talking to a truck driver while I was in Fresno California and I asked him if he ever hauled
loads out of Northern Oregon…. He told me “Yes, I used to haul shingles out of Northwest Oregon on the coast.”
I asked him if he ever hauled out of Rockaway beach on the Coast…. He replied, “In fact I did… during the
Columbus Day storm and as I was driving up Highway 6 going east a gust of wind hit my truck and tipped in over
onto a bank along side the highway…. and I had to wait until a tow truck tipped my truck back onto it’s wheels
and I got to drive off.” I told him, I was one of the guys that loaded your truck trailer that night.
When My Father and I got home, my Mom was hiding in the basement as one of the front picture windows
broke out and all the TV Antennas and a CB Antenna were blown off the roof of the house. The wind gauge
cups were missing and were later found 3 blocks up the street up in front of the Natatorium.
All of Rockaway Beach and Tillamook County lost power for three weeks. The owner of the Shell gas station
in Rockaway Beach figured out how to pump gas out of his storage tanks underground which normally used
electric motors to pump the gas…. With some creative thinking he backed up his car close to the pump
and jacked up the rear wheels and having removed the tire off the rim of the tire, he used a fan belt
and connected it up to the pulley on the gas pump, then started the car and put it in low gear and pumped gas
for his customers.
Being out of power for three weeks, we had to cook on a camp stove and heat our water on a wood stove.
It sure got cold and damp in the house and even our beds were cold and damp… that is until I put on
the bed a big thick elk hide as the top cover… It kept the elk nice and warm and it did the same for me.
We have had a lot of storms on the Oregon Coast but this one was one for the record books for sure.
If you have some interesting stories please share them of your experience with The Columbus Day Storm of ’62.
The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 (also known as the Big Blow, and originally as Typhoon Freda) was a Pacific Northwest windstorm, that struck the West Coast of Canada and the Pacific Northwest coast of the United States on October 12, 1962. It is considered the benchmark of extratropical wind storms. The storm ranks among the most intense to strike the region since at least 1948, likely since the January 9, 1880 “Great Gale” and snowstorm. The storm is a contender for the title of most powerful extratropical cyclone recorded in the U.S. in the 20th century; with respect to wind velocity, it is unmatched by the March 1993 “Storm of the Century” and the “1991 Halloween Nor’easter” (“The Perfect Storm”). The system brought strong winds to the Pacific Northwest and southwest Canada, and was linked to 46 fatalities in the northwest and Northern California resulting from heavy rains and mudslides.
IMPACT OF STORM: At least 46 fatalities were attributed to this storm, more than for any other Pacific Northwest weather event. Injuries went into the hundreds. In terms of natural disaster-related fatalities for the 20th century, only Oregon’s Heppner Flood of 1903 (247 deaths), Washington’s Wellington avalanche of 1910 (96 deaths), the Great Fire of 1910 (87 deaths), and Eruption of Mount St. Helens of 1980 (57 deaths) caused more. For Pacific Northwest windstorms in the 20th century, the runner up was the infamous October 21, 1934, gale, which caused 22 fatalities, mostly in Washington.
In less than 12 hours, more than 11 billion board feet (26,000,000 m3) of timber was blown down in northern California, Oregon and Washington combined; some estimates put it at 15 billion board feet (35,000,000 m3). This exceeded the annual timber harvest for Oregon and Washington at the time. This value is above any blowdown measured for East Coast storms, including hurricanes; even the often-cited 1938 New England hurricane, which toppled 2.65 billion board feet (6,300,000 m3), falls short by nearly an order of magnitude.
Estimates put the dollar damage at approximately $230 million to $280 million for California, Oregon and Washington combined. Those figures in 1962 dollars translate to $1.8 Billion to $2.2 Billion in 2014 Dollars. Oregon’s share exceeded $200 million in 1962 dollars. This is comparable to land-falling hurricanes that occurred within the same time frame (for example, Audrey, Donna, and Carla from 1957 to 1961).
The Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. (now MetLife) named the Columbus Day Storm the nation’s worst natural disaster of 1962.
IMPACT AFFECTING STATE OF OREGON:
In the Willamette Valley, it is said the undamaged home was the exception. Livestock suffered greatly due to the barn failures: the animals were crushed under the weight of the collapsed structures, a story that was repeated many times throughout the afflicted region. At the north end of the Valley, two 500-foot (150 m) high voltage transmission towers were toppled.
Radio and TV broadcasting were affected in the Portland area. KGW-TV lost its tower at Skyline and replaced the temporary tower with a new one on January 28, 1963. KOIN radio lost one of two AM towers at Sylvan. KPOJ-AM/-FM lost much of its transmitting equipment, plus one of two towers was left partially standing at Mount Scott. KPOJ-FM was so badly damaged it wouldn’t return to the air until February 9, 1963. KWJJ-AM lost one of its towers and a portion of its transmitter building at Smith Lake. KISN-AM also lost a tower at Smith Lake. Seven-month-old TV station KATU did not receive any damage at its Livingston Mountain site, 6 miles (9.7 km) north of Camas, Washington. However, KATU didn’t have a generator and power was cut off. The heavy-duty design of the radio towers on Portland’s West Hills today, with extensive and robust guy cables, is a direct result of the lessons learned from the 1962 catastrophe.
For northwest Oregon, the entire power distribution system had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Some locations did not have power restored for several weeks. This storm became a lasting memory for local power distributors. Indeed, a number of high wind related studies appeared in the years after the storm in an attempt to assess the return frequency of such potentially damaging winds.
The state Capitol grounds at Salem, and the state’s college campuses, resembled battlefields with heavy losses of trees.
The Campbell Hall tower at Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University) in Monmouth crashed to the ground, an event recorded by student photographer Wes Luchau in the most prominent picture-symbol of the storm.
East of Salem, the wind destroyed a historic barn that served as a clandestine meeting place by pro-slavery Democratic members of the state Legislature in 1860.
The Oregon State Beavers–Washington Huskies college football game went on as scheduled Saturday, October 13 in Portland, in a heavily damaged Multnomah Stadium. Much of the roof was damaged and seats damaged by falling debris were replaced by portable chairs. Crews cleared debris from the grandstand and playing field right up to kickoff. Most of the electricity, including the scoreboard and clock, was still out and players dressed by candlelight in the locker rooms. The Huskies came from behind to beat the Beavers 14–13, despite a strong performance by quarterback Terry Baker, who would win the Heisman Trophy later that year.
WIND SPEEDS –
The peak winds were felt as the storm passed close by on October 12. At Oregon’s Cape Blanco, an anemometer that lost one of its cups registered wind gusts in excess of 145 miles per hour (233 km/h); some reports put the peak velocity at 179 miles per hour (288 km/h). The north Oregon coast Mt. Hebo radar station reported winds of 170 mph.
At the Naselle Radar Station in the Willapa Hills of southwest Washington, a wind gust of 160 miles per hour (260 km/h) was observed.
In Salem, Oregon, a wind gust of 90 miles per hour (140 km/h) was observed.
At Corvallis, Oregon, an inland location in the Willamette Valley, one-minute average winds reached 69 miles per hour (111 km/h), with a gust to 127 miles per hour (204 km/h), before the station was abandoned due to “power failure and instruments demolished”. Observations at the weather station resumed the next day.
About 56 miles (90 km) to the north, at Portland, Oregon’s major metropolitan area, measured wind gusts reached 116 miles per hour (187 km/h) at the Morrison Street Bridge.
Many anemometers, official and unofficial, within the heavily stricken area of northwestern Oregon and southwest Washington were destroyed before winds attained maximum velocity. For example, the wind gauge atop the downtown Portland studios of KGW radio and TV recorded two gusts of 93 miles per hour (150 km/h), just before flying debris knocked the gauge off-line at about 5 p.m.
For the Willamette Valley, the lowest peak gust officially measured was 86 miles per hour (138 km/h) at Eugene. This value, however, is higher than the maximum peak gust generated by any other Willamette Valley windstorm in the 1948–2010 period.
In the interior of western Washington, officially measured wind gusts included 78 miles per hour (126 km/h) at Olympia, 88 miles per hour (142 km/h) at McChord Air Force Base, 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) at Renton at 64 feet (20 m) and 98 miles per hour (158 km/h) at Bellingham. In the city of Seattle, a peak wind speed of 65 miles per hour (105 km/h) was recorded; this suggests gusts of at least 80 miles per hour (130 km/h). Damaging winds reached as far inland as Spokane.
Wind gusts of 58 miles per hour (93 km/h), the National Weather Service minimum for “High Wind Criteria,” or higher were reported from San Francisco, to Vancouver, British Columbia.