The mighty Columbus Day storm of 1962 could happen again

Oct 9, 2022, 8:23 AM


Photos courtesy of The Big Blow and West Coast Disaster

The strongest non-tropical wind storm ever to hit the lower 48 in American history occurred 60 years ago on October 12th, 1962. This historic storm clobbered much of the west coast including the Puget Sound region as the storm hugged the coastline just offshore as it quickly tracked from Northern California up the coast to Vancouver Island.

Measured wind gusts along the Oregon and Washington coasts hit 150 mph and over 100 mph from Eugene to Vancouver, BC. With power outages and wind instrument damage, many wind measurements were reported only early in the storm and the peak winds were quite likely missed.

Those wind gusts match category-four hurricane-force winds. The Pacific Northwest does not get hurricanes that are fueled by 80-degree or warmer sea surface temperatures but does get hurricane-force winds when intense North Pacific Ocean storms manage to reach our area.

Wind gusts in the interior of Western Washington ranged from 70 to over 100 mph, striking on a Friday evening. High school football games were disrupted with power outages and bashed scoreboards. TV and radio stations were knocked off the air.

Damage from the storm was widespread. Over 15 billion feet of timber was blown down from the coast to Western Montana, enough timber to build one million homes. Thousands of buildings were destroyed or heavily damaged by fallen trees and the strong winds.

Millions of people were without power along the entire US west coast, some not getting power back until November. The storm claimed 46 lives and injured hundreds more. All other wind storms are compared to this grand-daddy of them all. If there is an older relative who lived through this storm, they have stories to tell. The Columbus Day Storm highlights that October is the start of the fall and winter wind storm season that runs into March.

Can another windstorm like this one occur again today? Yes, it can. Fortunately, not all wind storms are this devastating, but winds of 70 mph or more occur more frequently, on average about every 10 years, producing numerous downed trees and power outages. The last big wind storm in our region was the Hanukkah Eve Wind Storm of December 2006. Given this region gets a big wind storm around every 10 years, we are overdue.

Back in 1962, Western Washington had a population of about 1.25 million residents. Today, the population is more than 6 million with far more infrastructure supporting that population. Imagine a similar Columbus Day-type wind storm with over 100 mph wind gusts pounding the Puget Sound area today. The damage would quite likely be devastating and long-lived.

Strong wind storms usually prune or blow down trees, resulting in power outages, blocking roads, and disrupting lives. Preparing in advance for not only wind storms, but any fall and winter season storm is key to being ready when these storms strike. Visit www.ready.gov to learn how best to prepare for your home, business, and even pets and livestock.

It is also important to know if a strong wind storm or any significant weather may strike our area. Visit the MyNorthwest Weather Page, as well as the National Weather Service webpage along with other key weather apps and websites. When you are weather aware, you are weather prepared.

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The mighty Columbus Day storm of 1962 could happen again