Meteorological history was made forty years ago today.
October 12th, 1962: The Columbus Day Storm roared through
the Pacific Northwest, killing 48 people and causing damage worth almost 6
billion dollars at today's rate.
It was one heck of a wind.
In the broadest sense, winds are caused by differences in atmospheric
pressure. Sun-warmed air (especially near the equator and over land)
warms and rises; cooler air moves in to replace it. Wind is the
atmosphere leveling out.
Add the effects of the planet's spin, friction with the surface and
with other winds, and smaller-area differences in heating and cooling, and
the result is an interactive, three-dimensional complex of air movement.
Applying the Beaufort scale, the standardized scale of wind force, a
"storm" has winds of 64-73 miles per hour. ("Strong
gales" and "whole gales," with wind speeds of 47-54 mph and
55-63 mph, would probably be considered "stormy" by most
A cyclone is a storm that rotates around a calmer eye. Cyclones
rotate counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere, clockwise in the
southern hemisphere. Large scale cyclones with winds over 73 mph are
classified as either hurricanes or typhoons: hurricanes arise over the
Atlantic Ocean; typhoons arise over the Pacific Ocean.
During the Columbus Day Storm, many weather stations in Oregon reported
wind gusts over 100 mph. Although the official top wind speed in
North Bend was 81 mph, Newport clocked gusts up to 138 mph before the
Our region often receives topically-spawned storms. What made
this cyclone so severe?
Typhoon Frieda developed in the tropical western Pacific about the
third of October of that year. The storm weakened a bit as it moved
east and north over cooler waters, then continued traveling east toward
central California. According to a summary of government reports in
The Oregonian (9 October 2002), Typhoon Frieda veered north around a very
cold air mass that was moving south from the Gulf of Alaska. Frieda
gained momentum as it was pulled around the cold air, peaking in speed as
it slammed into the coast.
When Typhoon Frieda made landfall at Cape Blanco, it had sustained
winds of 150 mph and was producing gusts up to 179 mph.
I lived in the Willamette Valley during the 1960s; during the Columbus
Day Storm we lived not far from the Air Force Base, Camp Adair, north of
Corvallis (where wind gusts reached 127 mph).
I remember a shift of wind direction after the calm eye passed over,
likely exacerbating the damage. To lessen the strain on the house,
my folks opened the windows on the lee side—first on the north, then on
We watched huge oak limbs traveling parallel to the ground as the house
shook and rumbled, but remained unscathed. I later saw sheets of
metal from a neighbor's new livestock barn dispersed over the countryside,
caught in distant fences.
Many Oregonians were without electrical power; in some areas the power
was out for weeks. Neighbors helped one another, downed trees were
cut up, buildings repaired. And people swapped stories for years.
Not surprisingly, the National Weather Service (NWS, NOAA) considers
the Columbus Day Storm "the benchmark of all Pacific Coast
windstorms, against which all others are compared." (http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/Portland/columbusday.html)
Visit our pages on related topics:
7 February 2002 storm
For more information, visit the NOAA
website on the Columbus Day Storm.
Wavecrest Discoveries can craft your personal discovery of this
delightful part of our world by customizing one of our distinctive guided
excursions. Our walks, tours,
and special activities are wonderful ways to
explore this fascinating region—and are the
perfect entertainment for guests.
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