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Columbus Day Storm damage, 1962. Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives.

Columbus Day Storm damage, 1962. Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives.


This NOT Just In: Columbus Day Storm

Feliks Banel

On October 12, 1962, one of the worst storms in the region's history devastated the Pacific Northwest. Remembering the deadly Columbus Day Storm.


A lot of strange things happened in October 1962. In Hollywood, Bobby "Boris" Pickett topped the charts.

Bobby Pickett [singing]: "He did the mash, he did the Monster Mash."

In New York, James Brown recorded his incredible "Live at the Apollo" album.

James Brown [singing]: "I wanna hear you say Owwwwwwwww!"

And, in Cuba —

President Kennedy: "Within the past week unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island."

Meanwhile, closer to home, the Pacific Northwest was about to face one of the most destructive natural disasters in American history.

The World's Fair in Seattle was in its final week. In Portland, the Huskies were getting ready for a Saturday football game against the Oregon State Beavers at Multnomah Stadium.

The first inkling of trouble came just before noon on Friday, October 12, when Portland radio listeners heard this:

KGW Bulletin: "We interrupt our regular KGW program schedule to bring you this weather advisory. The Weather Bureau is forecasting southerly winds of 20 to 40 mph today, gusting to 60 mph by late this afternoon or early evening."

Windy weather isn't that unusual here in the fall, but as the day wore on, it became clear that the windstorm of Columbus Day 1962 would be anything but typical.

KGW Bulletin: "You know by now that strong winds have hit the Portland area. We've recorded gusts up to 85 miles per hour — and there's another one over 80.

Now we've just been informed that KGW TV Channel 8's tower has gone down. That report from Andy Jordan just moments ago that the TV tower at Channel 8 has fallen."

As it turned out, the winds that night and into the early hours of the next morning were the strongest ever recorded in the Pacific Northwest — like a category 3 hurricane. Trees tumbled, roofs were ripped off buildings, power lines were down everywhere, and huge gusts blew apart KGW's wind gauge.

KGW Bulletin: "There goes our gauge. There goes our gauge. Dropped back to zero. We don't know what happened. There's wreckage coming off the roof up there, perhaps some of that wreckage hit the gauge or perhaps the bearings just burned out. But there was a 93 mph gust and then finally the wind gauge went."

As the storm moved north, the devastation continued into Washington, where gusts topped 140 mph at the coast. In Seattle, World's Fair officials rushed to evacuate the Space Needle and clear the fairgrounds before anyone could get hurt.

Commuters were stranded by downed trees, and families huddled in darkened homes, riding out the storm.

Finally, in the early morning hours of Saturday, the winds began to die down.

When the sun came up, the Columbus Day Storm was blamed for 46 deaths. Power was out and phones were dead from northern California to British Columbia. Property worth hundreds of millions of dollars lay in ruin.

But what about the Beavers and the Huskies? Crews rushed to clean up the branches and roof shingles that littered the stadium, and the game went ahead as scheduled. Final score was Beavers 12, Huskies 13.

Sound: (Vintage recording of the Husky fight song "Bow Down to Washington")

I'm Feliks Banel, for "This NOT Just In."

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