60 years later: The Columbus Day Storm of 1962

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Sixty years ago, on Oct. 12, 1962, a devastating storm caused a wake of destruction across the Pacific Northwest, with winds as strong as a Category 3 hurricane destroying property and leading to nearly 50 deaths.

It’s fair to describe the Columbus Day Storm of 1962 as the perfect storm.

“It was an extraordinarily strong storm,” said Dr. Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington who has written books about weather in the Pacific Northwest. “It was a very deep low-pressure system and it took a track that was just perfect to hit the western Washington and Oregon areas with winds sometimes gusting more than 100 mph.”

RELATED: Weather rewind: A look back at the Columbus Day Storm on 60th anniversary (from KING)

Mass said the historic event originated from the remnants of Typhoon Freda, which had formed weeks before in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. By the time Freda moved along the coast, it wasn’t a typhoon anymore but it was still producing extremely strong winds.

Clinton Rockey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland, said everything lined up that day.

“It had the perfect conditions, everything came together,” Rockey said. “It doesn’t happen very often but in this case it did and it was a rather memorable storm.”

As the winds started to move through the valley, winds peaked at 116 mph along the Morrison Street Bridge. Those winds leveled most of everything in their way, from the coast valley and into northwest Washington.

RELATED: 50th anniversary of Columbus Day storm

The National Weather Service shared with KGW a copy of a weather report filled out by a weather spotter in Corvallis during the storm. The report showed that the barometric pressure fell so fast, the weather spotter was forced to abandon the station because of the strong winds. They peaked at nearly 130 mph.

The technology that was availble to people tracking storms six decades ago was nothing like what exists today.

“Today we have satellite data that covers all of the oceans, we have aircraft data aloft, we have buoys — we really know what’s happening out there now,” Mass said.

Powerful winds knocked down the KGW-TV signal tower, but people were still able to get the storm report from the radio. Many people listened over the radio to warnings from late KGW meteorologist Jack Capell, who knew something big was on the way.

Current KGW meteorologist Matt Zaffino recalls Capell, years later, telling him about that day.

“He didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, because he hadn’t looked at the one imagery that had come out, but he could tell something big was happening,” Zaffino said. “Trees were moving, trees were coming down early in the day, people were losing power, and he said, ‘This is going to be a big deal.'”

Skip to content