The Turkey Day Storm of 1983 that ruined countless dinners

Nov 21, 2018, 7:03 AM | Updated: 9:28 am

Sometimes, it can almost seem that holidays actually attract big storms to the Pacific Northwest, whether on Hanukkah Eve in 2006 or on Columbus Day way back in 1962.

And on the list of holiday storms in the Pacific Northwest, quite a few people around here still remember the “Turkey Day Storm” of November 24, 1983. On that particular blustery Thanksgiving 35 years ago, a badly-timed windstorm wreaked havoc on electric ovens throughout Western Washington, and dashed the festive dinner plans of countless local residents.

Ted Buehner retired from the National Weather Service last year, but he’s still recognized as an articulate spokesman for Mother Nature’s more destructive atmospheric outbursts. In 1983, Buehner was driving south on I-5 near Olympia, on the way to visit family in Portland, when the storm hit.

“We had a windstorm come through … and it knocked down a lot of trees and knocked out power to a pretty widespread part of Western Washington,” Buehner said earlier this week near his home north of Seattle.

“Traffic signals were out, trees were down, and all those kinds of things, and I’m listening on the radio while trying to get through all this to get down to the Rose City,” he said.

But if the Turkey Day Storm is remembered at all three and a half decades later, it’s not necessarily because of its intensity, Buehner says.

“It really wasn’t that strong of a wind storm,” Buehner said. “It was roughly 35 to 40 miles per hour sustained, with gusts around 55 and 60, which is technically the low-end of a High Wind Warning, which is what was in place that day.”

Buehner says a couple of things conspired to make the Turkey Day Storm memorable.

“I think part of it was just that we hadn’t had a wind event for a couple years at that point, and we had a lot of leaves still on the trees at that time, and as a result, the leaves on the trees acted like a sail — caught the wind, and we ended up with a lot more limbs and/or trees down,” he said.

The second factor was when the storm hit. With high winds striking the populated areas around Puget Sound in the morning and many power failures coming around midday, it was the worst possible timing for what became countless half-cooked turkeys and dashed dinner plans.

Newspaper accounts from 1983 report a peak of as many as 270,000 customers without electricity on Thanksgiving afternoon. In the days after Thanksgiving, local health departments reported a spike in calls about what to do with foods affected by the power outages.

Thanksgiving weather 2018

While there’s no wind in the forecast this year, Buehner says November is a month worth keeping an eye on, with a long history of unsettled weather.

“November is our wettest month of the year, even though you wouldn’t know that this year. Clearly, we’re way behind normal for precipitation this month,” Buehner said. “But this tends to be our most active storm season as we kick out of October and into November, it’s our number one month for floods. We’ve had a number of windstorm events during this time of year.”

November can also bring that rare mix of moisture and freezing temperatures, Buehner says.

“We’ve also had some snow events,” Buehner said. “You might remember November of 1985. We had a nice cold weather outbreak and snow before Thanksgiving that year. I remember I had eight inches in my backyard on Thanksgiving Day.”

And, as Ted Buehner points out, it’s not just wind or the occasional snow storm that usually makes November memorable. It’s the rain. And the rain. And more rain.

“There were the big floods of 1986, [more floods] again in November of 1990, and then finally November 1995,” Buehner said. “That was a huge flood in the Pacific Northwest.”

What to do with all that turkey

Though it looks like Thanksgiving will be storm-free this year. What should you do if the power does go out during some yet-to-be infamous “Turkey Day Storm” sequel in the years ahead, or if we get a Christmas blizzard later this year?

Sue Smith has worked for the Butterball Turkey Talk Line for 19 years. She says you could always move a half-cooked turkey to an outdoor barbecue grill if your indoor oven stopped working.

If you do have to switch, Smith says, it’s critical to make sure that the turkey has been thoroughly cooked in order to kill any bacteria.

“What is really important on that day is your best friend – your meat thermometer,” Smith said. “You really need to have one on hand so you know when your turkey is done, and to make sure it does get up to appropriate temperatures quick enough. So, 180 degrees Fahrenheit in the thigh, 170 degrees Fahrenheit in the breast.”

Ted Buehner will be cooking at home for family this year. Though he is retired from the National Weather Service, he remains active with various emergency management and disaster preparedness projects, and is still passionate about Northwest weather.

While the turkey is cooking at the Buehner home, does Ted have a way to keep his eye on the sky, maybe his own home weather station, with a wind gauge to measure those record gusts?

“I don’t, and the reason for that is because I have a lot of trees around me, and I’ve been there when the wind is blowing like crazy up there in the canopy, but down on the ground it’s a whisper,” Buehner said.

Surely, though, this veteran meteorologist must have an elegant barometer on the mantle that he taps each night and first thing every morning?

Wrong again.

“You might say my left knee injury from high school football might be my barometer,” he said.

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Casey McNerthney with KIRO TV for his assistance finding vintage video.

More from Feliks Banel

Local News

comic con...
MyNorthwest Staff

Emerald City Comic Con returns Dec. 2-5 after being cancelled in 2020

Emerald City Comic Con didn't happen in 2020 due to the pandemic, but the popular four-day event returns to Seattle on Dec. 2-5.
15 hours ago
Whatcom County...
MyNorthwest Staff

Sumas residents urged to evacuate, National Guard expected in Whatcom County on Sunday

The Washington State National Guard has been pre-deployed in Whatcom County ahead of this weekend’s projected storm systems.
2 days ago
police, Lake City seattle...
KIRO 7 News Staff

Person seriously injured in shooting Friday inside Tacoma Mall

A person is in serious conditions after they were shot in the middle of the Tacoma Mall food court on Friday.
3 days ago
Sawant recall...
Dalton Day

A recall Sawant PAC has been released from campaign contribution limit

The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission has released a recall Councilmember Kshama Sawant PAC from its campaign contribution limits.
3 days ago
hand sanitizer...
Dalton Day

COVID-era artifact, emergency-produced hand sanitizer, comes to an end for local distillery

Copperworks Distilling Company has been ordered to shut down its manufacturing of hand sanitizer, which provided critical health care supplies.
3 days ago
COVID variant...
Charlie Harger

‘Bellwether bond’ down over COVID-variant concerns, ‘sending strong signal,’ says local analyst

Analyst Mike Alfstad of Seattle's Alfstad Capital clarifies how the newly identified COVID variant has affected the 10-Year Treasury yield.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
The Turkey Day Storm of 1983 that ruined countless dinners