Columbus Day Storm of 1962

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Columbus Day Storm of 1962
Columbus Day Storm 1962-10-13 weather map.png
Surface Analysis of the storm near its peak intensity[1]
Type Extratropical cyclone
Formed October 3, 1962
Dissipated October 17, 1962
Lowest pressure 960 hPa
Maximum snowfall or ice accretion Unknown
Damage $230 million (1962 dollars)
Casualties 46 fatalities
Areas affected Pacific Northwest and British Columbia

The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 (also known as the Big Blow,[2] and originally as Typhoon Freda) was a Pacific Northwest windstorm, that struck the West Coast of Canada and the Pacific Northwest coast of the United States on October 12, 1962. It is considered the benchmark of extratropical wind storms. The storm ranks among the most intense to strike the region since at least 1948, likely since the January 9, 1880 "Great Gale" and snowstorm. The storm 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"). The system brought strong winds to the Pacific Northwest and southwest Canada, and was linked to 46 fatalities in the northwest and Northern California resulting from heavy rains and mudslides.

Synoptic history

Storm trajectory compared to two other important storms hitting the Pacific Northwest in 1981 and 1995

A tropical storm named Freda formed 500 miles (800 km) from Wake Island in the central Pacific Ocean.[3] The system became an extratropical cyclone as it moved into colder waters and interacted with the jet stream. The low redeveloped explosively off Northern California due to favorable upper level conditions, producing record rainfalls in the San Francisco Bay Area that delayed some games in the 1962 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees. The low moved northeastward, and then hooked straight north as it neared southwest Oregon. The storm then raced nearly northward at an average speed of 40 miles per hour (64 km/h), with the center just 50 miles (80 km) off the Pacific Coast. There was little central pressure change until the cyclone passed the latitude of Astoria, Oregon, at which time the low began to degrade. The center passed over Tatoosh Island, Washington, before landing on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where it weakened rapidly. As the cyclone moved through Canada, another cyclone formed on its southern periphery, which merged with this cyclone by October 17.[4]

The extratropical wave cyclone deepened to a minimum central pressure of at least 960 hPa (28 inHg), and perhaps as low as 958 hPa (28.3 inHg), a pressure which would be equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. Since it was an extratropical cyclone, its wind field was neither as compact nor as strong as a tropical cyclone. All-time record-low land-based pressures (up to 1962) included 969.2 hPa (28.62 inHg) at Astoria, 970.5 hPa (28.66 inHg) at Hoquiam, Washington, and 971.9 hPa (28.70 inHg) at North Bend, Oregon. The Astoria and Hoquiam records were broken by a major storm on December 12, 1995 (which measured 966.1 hPa (28.53 inHg) at Astoria); this event, however, did not generate winds as intense as the Columbus Day Storm of 1962.

Wind speed highlights

Most of these peak gusts were taken at official stations[5]

The peak winds were felt as the storm passed close by on October 12. At Oregon's Cape Blanco, an anemometer that lost one of its cups registered wind gusts in excess of 145 miles per hour (233 km/h); some reports put the peak velocity at 179 miles per hour (288 km/h).

At the Mount Hebo Air Force Station in the Oregon Coast Range, the anemometer pegged at its maximum 130 miles per hour (210 km/h) for long periods — the level of a Category 3 hurricane; damage to the radar domes suggested wind gusts to at least 170 miles per hour (270 km/h). Dome tiles were thrown down the mountainside; the 200-pound (91 kg) chunks tore through entire trees.

At the Naselle Radar Station in the Willapa Hills of southwest Washington, a wind gust of 160 miles per hour (260 km/h) was observed.

In Salem, Oregon, a wind gust of 90 miles per hour (140 km/h) was observed.

At Corvallis, Oregon, an inland location in the Willamette Valley, one-minute average winds reached 69 miles per hour (111 km/h), with a gust to 127 miles per hour (204 km/h), before the anemometer was destroyed and the observation tower began flying apart, forcing the abandonment of the station.

About 56 miles (90 km) to the north, at Portland, Oregon's major metropolitan area, measured wind gusts reached 116 miles per hour (187 km/h) at the Morrison Street Bridge.

Many anemometers, official and unofficial, within the heavily stricken area of northwestern Oregon and southwest Washington were destroyed before winds attained maximum velocity. For example, the wind gauge atop the downtown Portland studios of KGW radio and TV recorded two gusts of 93 miles per hour (150 km/h), just before flying debris knocked the gauge off-line[6] at about 5 p.m.

For the Willamette Valley, the lowest peak gust officially measured was 86 miles per hour (138 km/h) at Eugene. This value, however, is higher than the maximum peak gust generated by any other Willamette Valley windstorm in the 1948–2010 period.

In the interior of western Washington, officially measured wind gusts included 78 miles per hour (126 km/h) at Olympia, 88 miles per hour (142 km/h) at McChord Air Force Base, 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) at Renton at 64 feet (20 m) and 98 miles per hour (158 km/h) at Bellingham. In the city of Seattle, a peak wind speed of 65 miles per hour (105 km/h) was recorded; this suggests gusts of at least 80 miles per hour (130 km/h). Damaging winds reached as far inland as Spokane.

Wind gusts of 58 miles per hour (93 km/h), the National Weather Service minimum for "High Wind Criteria," or higher were reported from San Francisco, to Vancouver, British Columbia.


In less than 12 hours, more than 11,000,000,000 board feet (26,000,000 m3) of timber was blown down in northern California, Oregon and Washington combined; some estimates put it at 15,000,000,000 board feet (35,000,000 m3). This exceeded the annual timber harvest for Oregon and Washington at the time. This value is above any blowdown measured for East Coast storms, including hurricanes: even the often-cited 1938 New England hurricane, which toppled 2,650,000,000 board feet (6,300,000 m3), falls short by nearly an order of magnitude.

Estimates put the dollar damage at approximately $230 million to $280 million for California, Oregon and Washington combined. Those figures in 1962 dollars translate to $1.8 Billion to $2.2 Billion in 2014 Dollars. Oregon's share exceeded $200 million in 1962 dollars. This is comparable to land-falling hurricanes that occurred within the same time frame (for example, Audrey, Donna, and Carla from 1957 to 1961).[7]

The Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. (now MetLife) named the Columbus Day Storm the nation's worst natural disaster of 1962.[8]


In Central and Northern California, all-time record rains associated with the cold front caused major flooding and mudslides, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area. Oakland set an all time calendar day record with 4.52 inches (115 mm) of rain on the 13th, as did Sacramento with 3.77 inches (96 mm). More than 7 inches (180 mm) of rainfall were recorded in the Bay area.[9]


In the Willamette Valley, it is said the undamaged home was the exception. Livestock suffered greatly due to the barn failures: the animals were crushed under the weight of the collapsed structures, a story that was sadly repeated many times throughout the afflicted region. At the north end of the Valley, two 500-foot (150 m) high voltage transmission towers were toppled.

Radio and TV broadcasting were affected in the Portland area. KGW-TV lost its tower at Skyline and replaced the temporary tower with a new one on January 28, 1963. KOIN radio lost one of two AM towers at Sylvan. KPOJ-AM/-FM lost much of its transmitting equipment, plus one of two towers was left partially standing at Mount Scott. KPOJ-FM was so badly damaged it wouldn't return to the air until February 9, 1963. KWJJ-AM lost one of its towers and a portion of its transmitter building at Smith Lake. KISN-AM also lost a tower at Smith Lake. Seven-month-old TV station KATU did not receive any damage at its Livingston Mountain site, 6 miles (9.7 km) north of Camas, Washington. However, KATU didn't have a generator and power was cut off.

For northwest Oregon, the entire power distribution system had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Some locations did not have power restored for several weeks.[10] This storm became a lasting memory for local power distributors. Indeed, a number of high wind related studies appeared in the years after the storm in an attempt to assess the return frequency of such potentially damaging winds.

The state Capitol grounds at Salem, and the state's college campuses, resembled battlefields with heavy losses of trees.

The Campbell Hall tower at Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University) in Monmouth crashed to the ground,[11] an event recorded by student photographer Wes Luchau in the most prominent picture-symbol of the storm.

East of Salem, the wind destroyed a historic barn that served as a clandestine meeting place by pro-slavery Democratic members of the state Legislature in 1860.[citation needed]

The Oregon State BeaversWashington Huskies college football game went on as scheduled Saturday, October 13 in Portland, in a heavily-damaged Multnomah Stadium. Much of the roof was damaged and seats damaged by falling debris were replaced by portable chairs.[12] Crews cleared debris from the grandstand and playing field right up to kickoff.[12] Most of the electricity, including the scoreboard and clock, was still out and players dressed by candlelight in the locker rooms.[13] The Huskies came from behind to beat the Beavers 14–13, despite a strong performance by quarterback Terry Baker, who would win the Heisman Trophy later that year.[13][14]


At least 46 fatalities were attributed to this storm, more than for any other Pacific Northwest weather event.[10] Injuries went into the hundreds. In terms of natural disaster-related fatalities for the 20th century, only Oregon's Heppner Flood of 1903 (247 deaths) and Washington's Wellington avalanche of 1910 (96 deaths) and Eruption of Mount St. Helens of 1980 (57 deaths) caused more. For Pacific Northwest windstorms in the 20th century, the runner up was the infamous October 21, 1934, gale, which caused 22 fatalities, mostly in Washington.

The level of emergency caused by this storm exceeds that of any other Pacific Northwest event in memory. When queried, locals who experienced the storm nearly unanimously tell an account that is both interesting and frightening. The memory is vivid even five decades after the storm. For many, the response was to seek shelter immediately, move away from windows and go into interior rooms or basements.

The effects of the Columbus Day storm are still present today. For example, many of the unimproved backcountry roads used by hunters, recreational enthusiasts, and loggers were put in during an intense timber salvage effort aimed at recovering some of the billions of board feet toppled by the gale. Also, the heavy-duty design of the radio towers on Portland's West Hills, with extensive and robust guy cables, is a direct result of the lessons learned by the 1962 catastrophe.

See also


  1. "Daily Weather Maps: October 13, 1962". U.S. Weather Bureau. Retrieved November 28, 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Burt, Christopher C. (2004), Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book, W.W. Norton & Co., p. 236, ISBN 0-393-32658-6<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Al Sholand. "Typhoon Freda stormed in to town". Retrieved September 2, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Daily Weather Maps: October 17, 1962". U.S. Weather Bureau. Retrieved November 28, 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Wolf Read. "The "Big Blow" of Columbus Day 1962". Retrieved November 28, 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Tomlinson, Stuart (October 11, 2012). "Columbus Day Storm still howls through Portland history, 50 years later". The Oregonian. Retrieved April 2013. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "CPI Inflation Calculator". US Bureau of Labor Statistics.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Terrible Tempest of the 12th". Retrieved October 7, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. J. L. Baldwin Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin. U.S. Department of Commerce, p. 1.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "The Mightiest Wind: The 1962 Columbus Day Storm". The Oregon Historical Society. Retrieved April 2013. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Burt, Christopher C. (2004), Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book, W.W. Norton & Co., p. 237, ISBN 0-393-32658-6<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Friday night's violent winds wreck Multnomah Stadium". The Register-Guard. October 14, 1962. Retrieved September 14, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 13.0 13.1 Smith, Craig (October 12, 2004). "Punting into this storm sent averages plummeting". The Seattle Times. Retrieved September 14, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Harvey III, Paul (October 14, 1962). "Huskies nip Beavers". The Register-Guard. Retrieved September 14, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links