As she surveyed the damage of her now surreal and tragic surroundings, Marie Walmsley, then of Tillamook, Oregon, recounts that “[o]ne of the lasting memories of the aftermath was the downed trees everywhere and the dead and bloated dairy cows in the flooded pastures in Tillamook county.” She then adds, “I hope to never see such a storm again in this lifetime.” It was a frightening night for young Marie, yet the night before she braved the storm to help neighbors in need.
On the evening of October 12th, 1962, Marie heard a loud crashing sound and witnessed a large chunk of the roof on their neighbor’s mobile home blow away. Marie and her sister rushed to the home, “got inside the trailer, and moved as much of the furniture as [they] could out of the driving rain and into part of the trailer that still had a roof on it.” Luckily, the neighbors had sought safety in another home shortly before the damage took place.
Known as the furious monster that uprooted large trees, damaged homes, killed 46 people, and altogether cost the West Coast of the United States nearly 300 million dollars in damage, the Columbus Day Storm of October 12th, 1962 remains one of the strongest hurricane-force storms to hit the Pacific Northwest. Today, this particular storm is considered the benchmark for every windstorm that has since ravaged the West Coast.
With rainfall rates at one point averaging 8” per hour and wind speeds averaging 68 mph, many residents of the Northwest reasonably claimed the storm rolled in “like a hurricane.” A maximum wind gust read “145 mph+” at Cape Blanco, Oregon, although later reports confirmed the wind reached a maximum speed of 179 mph (the “145+” reading was actually a result of one of the weather stations blowing away after reaching 145 mph! Good thing there was more than one wind gauge around!)
At least one current Kitsap County resident remembers what it was like in Portland, Oregon during the storm. Suzanne Griffith recalls the storm arrived around 7 pm at the Reed College campus. “Some thought it was retribution for us having defeated a local Christian college at touch football,” she said. As the skies turned color and the wind began to howl, students on the campus flocked to their dorms.
“All our lights went out, and they stayed out for over a week,” Suzanne recounts. “That was one smelly campus with no hot water!” In addition to these unfortunate hygienic emergencies, Suzanne remembers the more serious effects of the storm: the aftermath. “Half the ancient trees were felled. Even now, they have not all been replanted.” Storm records show that Portland, Oregon reached a maximum wind gust of 116 mph.
THE COLUMBUS DAY STORM: A
While damage wasn’t nearly as extensive or costly as areas further south, Kitsap County experienced its own fair share of being blown around by the vicious, early-season windstorm.
As we travel about 170 miles north, the “Terrible Tempest of the 12th” made its own memorable impact, and several Kitsap County residents remember that night all too well.
As a child living in Bremerton, Barbara Burrows remembers the apparent downplaying of the storm. “All the adults were talking about the storm that was supposed to hit that night,” she said. “but they didn’t realize how bad it was going to be.”
What was supposed to be a pleasant and enjoyable time at her grandparents home turned into a frightening experience for little seven-year-old Barbara. “It was a pretty breezy afternoon,” Barbara recalled. “but by 7 pm it really began to howl.” As the lights flickered and eventually went out, Barbara remembers feeling the disappointment perhaps only a child could feel: regular scheduled programming of the Flintstones with Grandma and Grandpa had just been forcefully canceled.
“I was really upset,” Barbara remembers, but with the television off, the eerie screams of a furious wind were more clear than they had been before. After a frightening evening of darkness and a record-breaking storm blowing all around her, Barbara remembers, like Suzanne, the aftermath as being particularly memorable with trees at her own home and in surrounding areas uprooted or otherwise blown over. Says Barbara, recounting her last memory of the storm, “I recall grownups talking about it for weeks after it happened.” Although hourly Bremerton weather was hard to come by then, the highest wind gust recorded was 75 mph.
THE HAMMA HAMMA RIVER VALLEY
Although not technically on the Kitsap peninsula itself, local resident Marv Maki remembers a particularly memorable night of camping in the Hamma Hamma River Valley with his father during the Columbus Day storm, one of the most powerful cyclones to hit the U.S. in the 20th century. The next day was the opening of hunting season, and Marv’s father, Arne, wasn’t going to let the storm of the century get in the way.
When the wind started to howl that evening, it was clear danger was around the corner. “We could hear trees falling all around us,” Marv recounted. “And Dad spent a couple of hours holding on to the center pole of the tent.” As the crackling branches and thuds of falling trees danced all around Marv and his father (a Pacific Northwest “Man vs. Wild” contender, if you ask me), the morning would prove welcome relief from the outside contention. But the aftermath was quite a sight to behold, remembers Marv.
The following day after a successful round of hunting, a view of the hills towards the head of Quilcene Bay provided an eerie reminder of the storm’s strength. Marv descriptively recounts, “It was as if a giant hand had moved through the bay and out the end taking down every last tree to the north”. There are no available weather records detailing how high the wind speeds were on the Olympic Peninsula, although surrounding areas averaged in the high 70s to low 80s.
Despite the damage and tragedy wrought by the vicious storm, Rosie Atkinson has some positive memories. As a young wife of six children, Rosie gathered her family together as the wind shook and threatened to tear apart their little home on the Harper waterfront. With the power out and the children too afraid to make their way upstairs for bed, most of that night the family played games by the light of some old kerosene lanterns.
“The next day we got to know our neighbors,” said Rosie. Her neighbors had not previously signed on for Manchester Water and relied on wells that only produced water with an electrically run pump. “To those neighbors we provided water,” remembers Rosie. ” And because they all had electric furnaces or oil furnaces that required power to turn on, they came over and warmed themselves at our kitchen range.”
Although the power was out for about a week, no trees fell or threatened their home. There was, however, plenty of damage throughout the neighborhood. The moral of the story? Says Rosie, “It was a temporary inconvenience, but we were happy to get to know the neighbors a little better, some of whom we still cherish as friends.” Wind gusts exceeded 80 mph along the water in Port Orchard that night.
THE COLUMBUS DAY STORM OF
1962: A SUMMARY
These are just a few among the many records, stories, photos, and videos detailing this most impressive windstorm. If you are interested in reading further concerning specific details on the storm, I have provided some links below. Thanks to all who have shared their stories concerning the dramatic events of October 12th, 1962! In the present, we have our own little dilemma to sort out: lots and lots of rain! But more on that tomorrow