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The 1962 Windstorm


columbus day storm

The Columbus Day Storm
When it comes to wind storms in Oregon, the Columbus Day storm stands alone. Nothing before nor since has matched the intensity and damage of that storm, although a few have come close. The "storm" was actually three storms in quick succession. The first formed as a trough off the coast of Oregon on the 11th; it moved northward, and then northwestward, and began to taper off on the 12th. The second (and most destructive) storm formed from the remnants of Typhoon Freda, which moved northeastward from the Philippines, nearing the west coast early on the 12th. As it neared California, the storm nearly stopped moving, intensified, and began to slowly move northward just off the coast. As it moved, it wreaked havoc from northern California to British Columbia.

Trees, houses, and power lines were destroyed throughout the state; in some cases residents were without power for 2 to 3 weeks. Giant towers holding the main power lines into Portland (over 500 feet high) were knocked down. The Red Cross estimated that 84 homes were completely destroyed, 5000 severely damaged, and 50,000 moderately damaged. 23 people died in Oregon alone, and damages were estimated at $170 million.
By the way, the third storm was similar to the first and caused very little damage. It is likely that all "vulnerable" objects had been toppled by the second storm.

The Columbus Day storm is at the pinnacle of a type of weather event that is quite common in Oregon. Each year the state receives many of these "mid-latitude synoptic-scale cyclones" – in laymen's terms, big winter storms. These storms share several characteristics:

1. They move in a general west-to-east path, although they sometimes move northward or southward for short periods of time
2. They form over the North Pacific
3. They produce strong winds and significant precipitation; in fact, a high percentage of Oregon's annual precipitation comes from these storms.
4. They occur primarily during the cool season, usually from October through March.
5. They usually affect an area for one day (or part of a day) before moving on.

The Columbus Day storm had all of those characteristics, but many aspects of that storm were magnified. For example,

• Its central pressure was one of the lowest ever observed in this area.
• Its path of movement (northward along the coast) caused it to affect a wider area, for a longer period of time, than would a more typical eastward-moving   system.
• It occurred very early in the season, before deciduous trees had lost their leaves. The increased windage from the still-leafy trees caused much greater damage   than if leaves had already fallen.
• It was a very broad storm, covering an unusually large area.
• It reached its peak strength just as it reached the coast. All storms go through periods of growth, reach a peak, and then decay. The peak strength of the   Columbus Day storm occurred as it reached our area.

Thus, all the elements came together in October, 1962, producing what Howard Sumner of the Weather Bureau correctly called "one of the major weather catastrophes of the state's history," a statement which is every bit as true now as it was when Sumner uttered those words 35 years ago.

Since 1962, there have been many big wind storms in Oregon (see the list at the end of this chapter). The biggest recent one, in December, 1995, closely resembled the Columbus Day storm. Although loss of life and total damages were considerably less in the 1995 storm, it established a new record low pressure observed anywhere in Oregon – 28.51 inches at Astoria, breaking a record set in 1880.


the above text is an excerpt from The Oregon Weather Book: A State of Extremes, written by George Taylor & Raymond R. Hatton, 1999