The powerful Columbus Day storm of 1962 could happen again

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The strongest non-tropical windstorm to ever hit the 48 lows in American history occurred 60 years ago on October 12, 1962. This historic storm hit much of the West Coast, including the Puget Sound region, as the storm hugged the coast just offshore. quickly followed from northern California to Vancouver Island.

Wind gusts measured along the Oregon and Washington coasts reached 150 mph and over 100 mph from Eugene to Vancouver, British Columbia. With the power outages and damage to wind instruments, many wind measurements were not reported until the start of the storm and peak winds were most likely missed.

These gusts of wind correspond to category four hurricane force winds. The Pacific Northwest does not receive hurricanes fueled by sea surface temperatures of 80 degrees or warmer, but does receive hurricane-force winds when intense storms from the North Pacific Ocean manage to reach our region.

Wind gusts in interior western Washington ranged from 70 to over 100 mph, hitting on a Friday evening. High school football games have been disrupted by power outages and battered scoreboards. Television and radio stations have been removed.

Storm damage was widespread. More than 15 billion feet of timber have been felled from the coast to western Montana, enough timber to build a million homes. Thousands of buildings were destroyed or badly damaged by fallen trees and high winds.

Millions of people were without power across the West Coast of the United States, with some unable to get power back until November. The storm claimed 46 lives and injured hundreds. All other windstorms are compared to this grandfather of all. If there’s an older relative who’s been through this storm, they have stories to tell. The Columbus Day storm highlights October as the start of the fall and winter windstorm season which ends in March.

Can another windstorm like this happen again today? Yes he can. Fortunately, not all windstorms are equally devastating, but winds of 70 mph or more occur more frequently, on average about every 10 years, producing numerous downed trees and power outages. The last major windstorm in our area was the Hanukkah Eve windstorm of December 2006. Since this area experiences a major windstorm approximately every 10 years, we are behind schedule.

In 1962, western Washington had a population of about 1.25 million. Today, the population is over 6 million and much more infrastructure supports this population. Imagine a windstorm similar to Columbus Day with wind gusts over 100 mph hitting the Puget Sound area today. The damage would most likely be devastating and long-lasting.

Strong windstorms usually prune or fell trees, causing power outages, blocking roads and disrupting lives. Preparing in advance not only for windstorms, but also for any fall and winter storms is key to being prepared when those storms hit. Visit www.ready.gov to learn how to best prepare for your home, business, and even your pets and livestock.

It is also important to know if a strong windstorm or other severe weather may hit our area. Visit the MyNorthwest weather page, as well as the National Weather Service webpage and other key weather apps and websites. When you are aware of the weather, you are prepared for the weather.

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