Looming storm reminiscent of Columbus Day typhoon

Old photo of storm-damaged houseThe remnants of a Pacific typhoon will blast the Northwest with harsh weather this week, and for some residents it should dredge up vivid childhood memories.

The strongest non-tropical storm to clobber the lower 48 states in modern history took place October 12, 1962, exactly 54 years ago today. The Columbus Day Storm started as Typhoon Freda in the western Pacific. It hit land in northern California and blasted Oregon before sweeping into Washington.

Winds hit 145 mph at Cape Blanco, Ore., 138 mph at Newport, and 116 in Portland, well above the threshold of 75 mph that defines a hurricane. Renton saw 100 mph. The 1962 storm took 46 lives and dropped more than 15 billion board feet of timber.

downed tree on house It also left hundreds of thousands of Northwest homes without electricity for days, much like the Hanukkah Eve windstorm of December 2006. NOAA meteorologist Ted Buehner told MyNorthwest.com yesterday, “If you ranked it from zero to 10, with the Columbus Day Storm as a 10, the Hanukkah Eve was a 6.”

I clearly recall Columbus Day 1962. I was in third grade, and they dismissed school early. My friends and I stood in the street outside our homes that afternoon and watched in amazement as shingles, branches, and garbage-can lids shot through the air. Power lines fell, and the most excitement came when a transformer atop a telephone pole exploded in sparks.

Oblivious at age 8 to the costly toll the storm took, I was thrilled to light candles and use flashlights inside our darkened home.

You can take steps now to ward off damage from the storm that’s expected to hit late tonight:

  • Check for cracked trees and branches that could cause damage if blown down.

  • Replace batteries in flashlights and portable radios.

  • Secure awnings, canopies (including truck canopies), garbage cans, barbecues, and other items that could blow away.

  • If you rely on a well (and an electric pump) for your water, store some water beforehand in gallon containers.

  • Don’t rely on cordless phones, which don’t work when there’s no power.

  • Unplug TVs, stereos, computers, and appliances to prevent surges when power is restored.

  • If you lose power, do not use a camp stove, barbecue, or gas lantern in the house. Use them outdoors only. Otherwise, there’s a serious risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • water pouring from house gutterNever use a generator indoors, inside the garage, or near the air intake of your house because of carbon monoxide danger.

  • Burn candles only in noncombustible containers, and never leave them unattended.

  • Check your gutters and downspouts. Clogged gutters and drains can wreck homes by forcing water into places you don’t want it to go.

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