Live. Love. Harm no one. Help when you can. Be happy.
By: BriarCraft , 8:43 PM GMT on October 09, 2012
At 2:00am, under a full moon in crystal clear skies, a 10-year-old girl stepped off the school bus. It was perfectly still. Quiet. The moon so bright she could see so clearly it was almost like midday. Except it was so quiet. No dogs barking. No owls hooting. No porchlights or house lights. The only light, the moon. Silent. Still. She felt alone in all the world.
She walked slowly down the gravel driveway, her footsteps seeming so loud in the stillness that she found herself tip-toeing. Most of the trees in the orchard were laying on their sides. Her uncle's travel trailer, stored at the farm until he should need it, was on its side. Sheets of clear plastic hung from broken trees like so many ghosts. She knew the plastic used to be someone's storm windows or greenhouse cover, but she couldn't shake the feeling that they might really be ghosts. Panels of corrogated tin were crumpled and strewn about, no longer sheltering the bales of hay in the shed.
The huge old wild cherry tree behind the house had fallen over the middle of the house. No lights were on. No sign of life. The door was locked. She had no key. Were her parents and baby brother alive? Or were they among the ghosts in the trees? She knocked on the door, afraid no one would answer. An eternity passed and she knocked again. Louder this time. A bare second after her fist hit the door, it opened. Her parents were alive. Everyone talked at once. And laughed. And hugged. And told each other about the day just past.
The morning of October 12, 1962, began differently for me than most days. It was Columbus Day. School was closed, but a special field trip had been arranged. School buses would take us to Portland, where students and teachers would board two chartered Greyhound buses. Then we would be off visit the Seattle World's Fair.
When Dad dropped me off at the grade school on his way to work, the sky was cloudy and it was expected to rain later in the day. The forecast was for 20-40 mile per hour winds and rain, arriving late in the day. We might get wet before boarding the buses to head home, but when you live in the Pacific Northwest, you learn not to wait for fair weather to go have fun.
I don't remember many details about the day. I bought a model of the Space Needle. I stood at the base of the Space Needle and looked way, way up. I saw some neat exhibits and hands-on demonstrations. I felt like a big girl, heading off on my first trip without my parents. Nobody in my family had been to the World's Fair. It was exciting.
I don't recall exactly when the rain started, but it was just regular rain. The predicted storm hadn't arrived yet. Even so, when it was time to leave, my bandana and saddle shoes were soaked and my hair and feet were wet, but not cold. Back on board the Greyhound bus, the heat felt good and everyone took off their shoes and socks so they could dry on the way back to Portland. The storm truly arrived before we left the Puget Sound area and it took a lot longer going home than it had heading out in the morning. The bus crept along on I-5. Sometimes the wind blew it sideways and some of the kids were scared. I thought it was exciting. I've always loved storms. They're so awesome.
Traffic came to a stop a couple of times and eventually, the bus was able to maneuver around trees that had blown over the freeway. Once, the busdriver had to drive off the pavement to get around a tree and the bus almost got stuck. The busdriver was really great, because he didn't just drop us off at the depot in Portland. He took several detours around downed power poles and trees and other obstacles, but eventually, he got us back to the grade school. Of course, no parents were waiting to take anyone home. (Before the phones went out, my mother had called Greyhound and was told that the bus was parked in Seattle until I-5 was reopened.) One of the teachers knew a school bus driver who lived near the school. Before long, those like me who lived too far away to walk piled on the school bus and eventually made it home. What a day!
That's my story. Now for the facts to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Columbus Day Storm, aka The Big Blow:
For a long time, the "experts" just said it was a severe storm, but eventually, it came to light that Oregon and Washington were hit by an extratropical cyclone known as Typhoon Freda. It was rumored for a long time that the National Weather Service knew a killer storm was coming, but they didn't want to panic people. Fact or conspiracy theory? I don't know. According to Wikipedia, it 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"). Certainly, it was the worst natural disaster in the U.S. in 1962.
San Francisco and the Bay area experienced record rainfall. As the storm headed north into Oregon, winds became the major factor. I couldn't find any rainfall data for Oregon or Washington for the storm. 46 people died and hundreds more were injured. Estimates ranging from 11 to 15 billion board feet of timber were blown down. By far, the greatest amount of property damage occurred in Oregon, as the storm began to degrade as it moved north of Astoria, Oregon. It eventually passed over Vancouver Island and dissipated in mainland British Columbia.
NWS surface map at the storm's peak
Crepuscular Rays seen from downtown Portland about half an hour before storm struck.
In many places, wind speeds could only be estimated based on property damage, as anemometers were damaged or destroyed.
Cape Blanco, Oregon: the anemometer registered 145 mph after losing one of its cups; peak velocity was estimated at 179 mph.
Mt. Hebo Air Force Station, Oregon: the anemometer held at its maximum of 130 mph for long periods; damage to radar domes suggested wind gusts to at least 170 mph.
Naselle Radar Station, Washington: a wind gust of 160 mph was recorded.
Corvallis, Oregon: a wind gust of 127 mph was recorded before the anemometer was destroyed and the station had to be abandoned.
Portland, Oregon: the Morrison Street Bridge anemometer recorded a wind gust at 116 mph.
Looking back at most powerful, most damaging, most awesome storm I ever witnessed, got me to thinking about all the other natural disasters that happen. Killer tornado outbreaks. Devastating hurricanes. Powerfully destructive earthquakes. Deadly-cold freezes. Blizzards. Ice storms. Wind-driven fire storms. I wonder how many of WU have experienced extreme weather or exceptional natural phenomena in your lifetimes. What are your memories?
Comments will take a few seconds to appear.