When people think of the location of hurricanes, they usually think of the gulf coast, the Atlantic seaboard, or the eastern Pacific, in areas like the Philippines. They rarely think of the west coast of the US. However, what has come to be known as the big blow did happen on the west coast in 1962.
It should probably be mentioned that hurricanes on the west coast of the US are normally called typhoons, as they are in the rest of the Pacific, but they are every bit as dangerous as the hurricanes along the east coast and gulf coast. Both are cyclones and they are exactly the same thing, with a different name.
On October 12, 1962, a Cat 5 typhoon struck the western US coast. Named Typhoon Freda, wind speeds were measured as high as 175 mph. This storm has also been called the Columbus Day storm and the damage was horrific.
At the time, I was 6-years-old and living at Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake is over 200 miles from the ocean and our altitude was about 6,000 feet, so you might not think that a tropical storm would affect us much. We didn’t, either.
That evening, my two sisters, my brother, and I had gone to bed while our parents were having a party downstairs. The four of us were laying in our beds, talking, when one of my sisters said, “Shhh, I heard something!”
My brother was about to tease her about that statement when we all heard it. There was a loud snap, then a crash. A few seconds later, this was repeated. We could even hear it over the music, laughter, and loud-talking coming from downstairs.
It was strictly forbidden for us to go downstairs if our parents had guests, but knowing the importance, at least on some level, we all got up and went down, interrupting the party. Before either our mother or father could scold us, my sister yelled, “The trees are falling!”
That brought a laugh from all the adults in the room. The laughter didn’t last long because a huge hemlock a few hundred feet away snapped and fell, shaking the whole house. The music was turned off and we could all hear the wind shrieking outside and trees falling every few seconds.
Dad sprang into action, grabbing the phone and dialing the emergency number. All the phones at the park then had a three-digit phone number, and the emergency number rang all the phones simultaneously, to warn of danger. Dad explained that everyone needed to go to the equipment shop, the sturdiest building there at the time.
Meanwhile, my mother bundled us kids up and we headed for the shop. Dad would stay behind and go personally check on anyone who didn’t answer the phone.
The distance to the shop was no more than 500 feet, but it was a good thing that my mother was a hefty 220-pound woman who was hanging on to my hand and that of my sister on the other side. Even at that, she was walking at a 45-degree angle and the wind was so strong that my feet were off the ground.
We made it to the shop, as did the other families and we spent the night there, while Typhoon Freda raged outside. Afterward, the destruction was astounding. The roadways couldn’t even be seen for the debris. One house was destroyed from a falling tree and a car was also destroyed. The power lines were snapped in over 250 places and they ended up putting up new lines rather than repairing the old ones. Hundreds of trees were down; uprooted or snapped, and some of those trees were over 12 feet thick and 200 feet tall.
There is more to the story of the Columbus Day storm, but I still have vivid memories of it.
For days, people were teasing my mother, asking her why she’d been so angry. Her name was Freda.
Were you aware that strong hurricanes do occasionaly hit the Pacific coast of the US?
I remember the storms of 1962