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Extreme Weather Events

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?

Hawthorne Bridge damage in Portland (BriarCraft)
Hawthorne Bridge damage in Portland
sunken boat in Columbia River (BriarCraft)
sunken boat in Columbia River
NW Portland street (BriarCraft)
NW Portland street
typical barn damage (BriarCraft)
typical barn damage
Siuslaw Nat'l Forest-see man at arrow for scale (BriarCraft)
Siuslaw Nat'l Forest-see man at arrow for scale

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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30. Proserpina
7:03 PM GMT on October 21, 2012
BC, oh no! I have been negligent with my visits. So sorry. I do have some good excuses for not being too active on the blogs, nevertheless I am sorry that I have not been able to come by. I love your blogs, there always is something interesting to read. And even without a theme, it is an honor to come by and say hello to you. Hopefully you will be back with an open blog very soon.
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29. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
6:58 PM GMT on October 21, 2012
BriarCraft has created a new entry.
28. sandiquiz
6:36 AM GMT on October 21, 2012
With you being such a busy person, I want to pick your brains!
How did you cope with the enforced "laziness" after your hip op?
It is not even two weeks yet and I am almost going demented, not being able to do what I used to. I see things that need doing and know I mustn't do them, but it is SO hard!! lol

Happy Sunday to you :)

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27. Ylee
6:03 AM GMT on October 21, 2012
Thanks for the link to the cams! I can't see them at night, anyway!

Glad you've been good busy!
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26. BriarCraft
8:59 PM GMT on October 20, 2012
Hey Sandi! Glad to see you're up to taking a walk through the halls of WU. That's a good indicator of how you're feeling.

Ylee: Yep, Jane Dark Cloud -- my alter ego. I just checked collection of Mt. Hood web cams. Wet pavement with a little slush on the edges of US-26 at Government Camp. Timberline Lodge, at 5900 feet,has a light dusting of snow on the roof.


I've been off in never-never land this week: dashing out between a series of rain storms to try to finish the fall clean-up, tai chi sessions, a bit of canning and freezing, and some good escapist fiction in between. Nothing wrong here, just happily busy. I should be back to a more usual schedule next week.
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25. Ylee
9:36 PM GMT on October 18, 2012
Hi, Little Jane Dark Cloud! :) Glad you're finally getting some quality rain! Maybe Mt. Hood will be properly snow covered soon!
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24. sandiquiz
6:44 AM GMT on October 16, 2012
Good morning.
I feel well enough to have a 'walk' through the halls of WU.

I really enjoyed your story, the first three paragraphs are brilliantly written, so descriptive.

Funnily enough, this week is the 25th anniversary of the hurricane that hit the UK killing 18 people and causing millions of pounds worth of damage.

It was thought it was only a mild storm but actually hit the south as a cat 1 hurricane.
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23. BriarCraft
5:31 AM GMT on October 16, 2012
Puget: I had to promote your photos. They are simply spectacular and yet hardly anyone had looked at them. Your timing sure was great. Clear skies. Lots of color. And rain the next day.

SP: You make a good point about the modern technology. 50 years ago, they predicted 20-40 mph winds with gusts to 60. They missed it by about 100 mph. And few people still are dependent on telephone lines to see how friends and family are faring after a disaster. Come to think of it, cell phone towers can go down and cell providers can get overloaded with traffic, so still no guarantees about being able to reach someone when it's most needed.


We did have a bit of a storm today, the first of the fall. It poured down on my way to tai chi class, poured down again on my way home. Good thing I put Rain-X on the windshield just last week; it came in handy to see in the freeway mess. Since Friday, when the rain started, there is almost exactly 2 inches of water in the rain gauge, and more than half of that arrived this afternoon when I was out and about. I'm not the daughter of Joe Dark Cloud for nothing. ;^D
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22. sp34n119w
10:09 PM GMT on October 15, 2012
That's a wonderful story and so well written, as all have noted. Really pulled me in! Thanks for sharing your experience, Briar. That little girl was quite brave to walk up to a busted house and knock.
I wasn't even aware of that storm until it showed up in blogs here. Makes me grateful for modern technology - that we know what's coming and can track not just the storms but our loved ones. Well, sometimes that just leads to more anxiety, I guess.
I don't have any great weather stories. Just the usual floods and fires, really, and I've probably told all of those by now, lol

My parents and siblings went to the Seattle World's Fair. It's one of my mom's favorite memories! I'll have to ask if she remembers the storm but my guess is she'd assume that was normal for Seattle and not bother remembering ;)

EDIT to add: checked w/mom and they were in Seattle in May, so, uh, no, she doesn't remember any storm, LOL
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21. PugetSoundPost
10:32 PM GMT on October 14, 2012
Hi Briar! Thanks for bringing back the Columbus Day storm to everyone and for your vivid writing! I was in California at the time, but all of the rest of my family was here in the Puget Sound region, riding out the storm, with lots of memorable stories.

Thanks also for stopping by our photos of Mt. Rainier and I see even promoting them on your blog! Didn't expect to see that! The three day trip was wonderful, and the weather was beyond fantastic for October, and especially in the mountains. The photos are a mix between Mr. PSP's and my photography, but on this trip there were terrific shots no matter where you turned your head. Sure had a good time hiking and taking the pictures! Still can't believe the weather and the color! And the good fortune to be on there on literally the last day of sunshine, before this current rain and fall weather finally arrived!
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20. BriarCraft
9:13 PM GMT on October 14, 2012
Ylee: After reading your comment, I went over and checked out Christopher Burt's WeatherHistorian blog. He did an excellent write-up.

Christopher: Thanks. That's high praise coming from you.


I was just over at Puget's blog and discovered she squeezed in one last trip before the fall rains set in. Her blog has some great pictures of North Cascades National Park, but I was really blown away by the shots she took of Mt. Rainier. When it comes to those pics, the term "fall color" is an understatement. You've got to see it to believe it.
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19. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
8:14 PM GMT on October 14, 2012
Wonderful firsthand account of the storm BriarCraft! Thanks for sharing with all of us!
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18. Ylee
7:25 AM GMT on October 14, 2012
Weatherhistorian has a blog on the Big Blow, too!
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17. BriarCraft
7:27 PM GMT on October 13, 2012
Ylee: That's a common saying around here in the spring, but the next 3-4 months in western WA will be pretty much the same: rain. Of course, we have a lot of different names for rain: mist, drizzle, sprinkles, showers, rain, heavy rain, downpour, cloudburst... and don't forget lumpy, for when it's partially frozen.

Barefoot: Nice to see your shining face around here. And thanks for linking to here on StuOstro's blog. It's nice to know that one of the WxGurus remembered our storm of storms. Think maybe I'll take the 6 minute KGW video over there.
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16. Barefootontherocks
4:28 PM GMT on October 13, 2012
Hi BriarCraft,
The Columbus Day storm caused a doug fir to smash my dad's car. I linked your blog in a comment at stuostro's current blog where he talks about October extremes including this storm.

Have a good one.:)
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15. Ylee
9:16 AM GMT on October 13, 2012
The saying goes around here is that you don't like the weather, just wait! :)

Hope you have a good weekend!
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14. BriarCraft
8:00 AM GMT on October 13, 2012
Karen: Thank you so much for sharing your earthquake stories. Many people in other parts of the country/world have never experienced the ground shaking. I have felt a few minor ones in the 5.x range and even from that, I know that quakes of similar magnitude can feel very different. Partly, that's due to the type of quake and the type of terrain, but also how high off the ground you are. Most of what I've felt were the rolling type, but I also felt an up-and-down jolting type.

I remember watching a TV program in San Diego once that was teaching preparedness. One thing that struck me was to carry an earthquake kit in your car. After all, there is no guarantee you'll be home when a quake hits. I've expanded that over the years to a general preparedness box in the trunk of the car and make sure than includes a good pair of walking shoes in case you have to hike home.

YCD: The forecast is similar here. I don't think there will be any heavy rains and that's a good thing. This light rain will soak in and maybe even start turning the grass green again. Cool and wet does feel good, I have to admit. Probably because the moss between my toes has dried out.


Here's a 6:38 video from a Portland TV station with a lot of good information about the Columbus Day Storm.

A Seattle TV station ran a half-hour special about the Columbus Day Storm. It shows a lot of old footage and also compares it to other major events. They divided the program into 4 video segments. You'll find the links for all 4 about halfway down the page. And they even throw in commercials so you'll feel right at home.
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13. ycd0108
1:09 AM GMT on October 13, 2012
Afternoon BriarCraft:
We have a rainfall warning for the west coast of the Island - could be extended to the east coast - numbers like 150 -200 mm. We do need the rain just now but all seven days of the short term forecast show clouds and rain. 16 degree C. highs at best. Oh well, it was a great run of very pleasant weather and the Rainforest is cryin' for Rain.
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12. SBKaren
1:02 AM GMT on October 13, 2012
I agree with the writing skill! Outstanding! I didn't know the beginning was going to lead to a true story! What an adventure you had.

I've been through both of the large California quakes, 1994 and 1971. A 6.7 occurred on Jan. 17, 1994 in Northridge and 61 people were killed, and there was $15 billion in damage. A 6.6 occurred on Feb. 9, 1971 in San Fernando that killed 65, and caused $50 million in damage.

The 1971 earthquake seemed worse to me, even though it was slightly smaller. That could have been because I was younger and completely unfamiliar with earthquakes.

At the time I was still living at home and I was 19 years old. Our home was on the water in Huntington Beach, so quite obviously living on top of filled land. My bed touched up to an outside wall. I remember waking up in bed, looking at my closet that lined the opposite wall, and watching my clothing swaying back and forth. Then fear gripped me as I looked towards the outside window and gave thought to the possibility that I might get thrown out the window! (it was a 2 story house and my bedroom was on the 2nd story) I remember screaming to my mom, "What's going on???"

I ran downstairs and outside and the water in the harbor was sloshing around violently. Some boats came away from their tethers and were drifting around in the canals. It was a scary time. I really don't remember any destruction to our own home, but I'm sure we sustained some cracks here or there. Nothing like I'm sure LowerCal will share if he lived in Northridge.

My biggest concern was my boyfriend (now hubby). He was living in a very old apartment in Long Beach (again, 2 storied building - he was on the 2nd story). I tried calling him, but all phone lines were down. He felt it, and he woke up, but then he returned to sleep. He didn't get in contact with me until later but I worried the whole time. We got married 5 months later!

In 1994 I had more concerns rather than fear. One of my daughters had a friend spend the night and when the quake stuck in the morning, we frantically tried to run down the hallway to the kids room to make sure they were OK. It was hard walking down the hall! We live in a neighborhood where all utilities are underground, so even though they tell you not to go outside because of falling power lines, we felt safer outside rather than in.

To be honest, the one that struck the most fear in me was the Whittier quake in October 1987. It was registered as a 5.9 (downgraded from a 6.1) The reason this one affected me the most was because I had just put my Kindergartner on the bus. She was on her way to school when the quake hit. The kids on the bus didn't feel a thing, I was told later, but we at home did! My older daughter was in middle school and used to walking to the bus stop by herself, but not that morning. I walked her and all her friends at the bus stop gathered around me and were chatting up a storm. Many were at home alone, as their parents had already left for work and they just had a block to walk to the bus stop. I was so glad that I walked there. A power line down the street, at the intersection, had fallen and burnt a mark in the concrete, right where we cross the street!

We've had a few tremblers since then and I know we will continue to have them. But I feel we are pretty prepared. We have spare food, water and tools, clothing and blankets in our car and our school is pretty prepared too. All out students have 'earthquake' kits....enough food and water for at least 2 days. I hope I never have to experience a super big one, but I hope I'm also prepared.
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11. BriarCraft
9:42 PM GMT on October 12, 2012
We've got drizzle! It's not enough to warrant the name "rain" just yet, though that might be coming. It's been steady since before I got up this morning and is showing at just under 1/4 inch in my simple rain gauge. That's as much as we got in the whole month of July (0.1 on July 3 and 0.1 on July 20). By my count, we had 83 days with no measurable precipitation -- not a record, but a long dry spell by western Washington standards.

Knowing the rain was coming, I pushed yesterday and finished cleaning up the last flowerbed. DH got the gutters cleaned out earlier in the week. So let it rain. Of course, before it's done, I'll be wishing for it to stop, but that's just how I am. Here's hoping for a mild, uneventful winter.
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10. BriarCraft
9:05 PM GMT on October 12, 2012
YCD: I do remember that 2006 storm. Winds here were only about 45mph, but we did have power out for 3 days here and had to fire up the generator to keep the freezer contents frozen. It was a lot worse farther north.

Ylee: There have been a bunch of significant storms in the past decade. We had flooding here in '07 that closed I-5 at Chehalis for 4 days. Any time you get enough rain to close major highways, you know it's pretty bad. Of all the storm types, the one I most dislike is ice storms. They cause a lot of damage, usually including power outages. It's cold and moving around on foot or by car is just plain treacherous.

Ggrrl: too curious about the world to be really scared Yep, that sounds like me. I didn't get scared until the storm was over.

WTS: What a nice compliment! I did write an SF novel once upon a time. It never got published, but it did hone my skills over a period of several years. For this blog, I thought it might be fun to open with a bit of drama, to share what will always be one of my most vivid memories that comes to mind every year about this time. I thought it would be more interesting to readers than a boring list of storm statistics.
Your dad's little Nash Metro was probably about as powerful as my dad's little Austin sedan. If I recall, he wasn't able to drive all the way home against the wind and had to walk the last couple of miles.

Ylee and WTS got me to thinking: The area of Kentucky, Tennessee, the Virginias, and the Carolinas seems to have more than its share of severe storms. Don't they get a lot of hurricane leftovers and arctic blast leftovers and convergences of warm and cold fronts?

LC: You were typing while I was typing. I would be very interested in your experiences of the Northridge Earthquake. I only know what I saw on the news at the time -- crumpled freeway overpasses, collapsed buildings, etc. That had to have been awesome-scary at the time. And how long did it take for life to return to some semblance of normal?
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9. LowerCal
8:48 PM GMT on October 12, 2012
My style will be drier but your invitation has persuaded me to write an account of my Northridge Earthquake experience when I have some time next week.
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8. LowerCal
8:45 PM GMT on October 12, 2012
I agree with WTS, that is some professional grade descriptive writing in the intro. I hope you are doing some short story or novel writing as a hobby at least.
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7. WatchinTheSky
6:14 PM GMT on October 12, 2012
Did I miss an early blog where you mentioned being a novelist or scriptwriter?! Awesome recount of a clearly memorable event. I've encountered nothing close to that, but in about the same time period my Dad was stationed in North Carolina and I remember wind and rain one evening. Not overly dramatic at home , but hearing my Dad's story of driving from the base to home in a little Nash Metro and at some point barely making forward progress against the wind at full throttle still seems like yesterday! I need to look up which hurricane that was.
Very nice blog!
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6. GardenGrrl
5:15 PM GMT on October 12, 2012
Dang. That had to have been a wild day. Glad you were a brave kid (and too curious about the world to be really scared).
Good blog.
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5. Ylee
8:27 PM GMT on October 11, 2012
We've had nothing to the scale of your storm, Briar, but Ike whooshed through with 70mph winds in '08, followed by an ice storm in '09, both of which knocked power out for a week, and did quite a bit of damage to trees! in '07 we had fooldwaters high enough to close US 60, and in '94, we had 14" of snow overnight, and 17" in '04!
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4. Ylee
11:51 PM GMT on October 10, 2012
I only have time to say that this is one of the best blogs I've seen here! Will be back tomorrow! :)
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3. ycd0108
11:56 PM GMT on October 09, 2012
Nope. I would have been about 15 years at that time - I was not particularly concerned with weather nor much else then except how my hair was parted . The North Okanagan Valley may or may not have sustained strong wind and rain during that storm system but my trolling through memories brings up nothing.
This one I do remember:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanukkah_Eve_wind_st orm_of_2006
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2. BriarCraft
11:10 PM GMT on October 09, 2012
Ylee (from previous blog): I enjoy learning something new and, so far, it's fun, too. My only frustration is the 77-year-old teacher is taking things really slow, like putting a break in the middle of the 50 minute session. I don't begrudge that, really, and it makes me feel like I'm not as out of shape or as senior as I thought I was.

Poppy: I held back on replying to Ylee's comment from yesterday, just so you could be first today!
That must have been the same storm. We just don't have that many typhoons/hurricanes/cyclones on the west coast. It's a good thing your mom didn't get blown off the roof. I can really picture that, too. What ever possessed her? Never mind -- I know. She is/was a member of the Greatest Generation and they just pride themselves on being able to do what needed doing.
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1. calpoppy
9:28 PM GMT on October 09, 2012
That must have been the wind event that I remember as a kid. I was walking home from school with the wind blowing really hard, I lived up on a hill and as I was walking up the hill I saw my mom. She was up on the roof of the house trying to hold the roof on! Later everyone talked about the hurricane force winds that had hit the Seattle area.

My mom survived her crazy roof holding down episode! The roof was only slightly damaged, a couple of pine trees hit the house but they were young and the damage was minimal on that part of the roof.

Thanks for bringing back that memory! I certainly will never forget my mom sitting on top of the roof and it was a two story house!

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