Fifty years ago, reading the Hood River News, you might never have known the destruction wrought throughout the state on Oct. 12. One picture of a downed tree is about all that is mentioned. The rest of the state was not so fortunate.
The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 lives in memory as a unique and destructive force the likes of which have not — yet — been repeated.
With wind gusts measured at 145 miles per hour – and peak velocity that may have reached as high as 175 mph, the storm demolished trees, homes and lives. As many as 46 deaths were attributed to the storm, and hundreds of Oregonians were injured, making it the second deadliest weather event in the state’s history, after the 1913 Heppner flood.
What made the Columbus Day storm unusual, according to Oregon State University climatologists, was that it took place in October – well before the winter storm season.
Fifty years after the Columbus Day storm, weather analysts still debate whether this is a once a century event, or something even more unusual. Kathie Dello, who is dean of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, says she often is asked if such a storm could happen again.
“It took a combination of events to create the Columbus Day storm,” Dello said, “and the cumulative effect of those events was enormous.”
Dello adds a simple but revealing fact: Oregon’s population change, which has doubled from 2 million in 1960 to nearly 4 million today.
“But none of the individual factors was all that unusual, so yes, it could very well happen again. And if it does, the damage could be even more devastating because there are so many more people and houses than in 1962,” Dello said.
The economic impact just in Oregon was an estimated $200 million at the time, which is equal to somewhere in the vicinity of $1.4 billion in today’s dollars. Given the vastly increased density of our housing and commercial areas, the damage today would be devastating in a similar storm.
It is not likely we will see a regional weather trauma such as this, but the anniversary of a worst-case scenario such as the Columbus Day storm serves as a reminder, as fall and winter weather approach, to review your home and business emergency preparedness. It is a good time to examine such things as emergency plans and food and water stockpiles.
The American Red Cross website, oregonredcross.org, is an excellent starting point.