Historic 1962 wind storm was the strongest in US history; another could occur

Oct 9, 2023, 11:01 AM

The strongest non-tropical wind storm ever to hit the Continental United States in its history occurred 61 years ago on Oct. 12, 1962. This historic storm clobbered much of the West Coast including Western Washington as the storm hugged the coastline just offshore as it quickly tracked from Northern California up the coast to Canada’s Vancouver Island.

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

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Those wind gusts matched Category 4 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 Puget Sound area ranged from 70 to over 100 mph, striking on a Friday evening. Damage from the storm was widespread. Millions of people were without power along the entire U.S. West Coast, some not getting power back until November. High school football games were disrupted with power outages and bashed scoreboards. TV and radio stations were knocked off the air.

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.

The storm claimed 46 lives and injured hundreds more. All other wind storms are compared to this, the granddaddy of them all. If there is an older relative who lived through this storm, they have stories to tell.

October starts wind storm season

The Columbus Day Storm highlights that October is the start of the fall and winter wind storm season, running through March. Another wind storm like this one could occur again. Fortunately, not all wind storms are this devastating, but winds of 70 mph or more occur more frequently, on average 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 an intense wind storm around every 10 years, we are overdue.

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Back in 1962, Western Washington had a population of about 1.25 million residents. Today, the population is approaching 7 million with far more supporting infrastructure. Imagine a similar Columbus Day-type wind storm with over 100 mph wind gusts pounding Western Washington 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 Ready to learn how best to prepare your home, business and even pets and livestock in advance.

It is also important to know if a strong wind storm or any significant weather may strike our area in advance. When you are weather aware, you are weather prepared.

Follow Ted Buehner, the KIRO FM news meteorologist on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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Historic 1962 wind storm was the strongest in US history; another could occur