1962 Columbus Day Storm

Remembering the Big Blow

Book author John Dodge will speak in Cannon Beach about the 1962 Columbus Day Storm and its effect on Oregon and its wine and timber industries

On Oct. 12, 1962, the strongest windstorm in the recorded history of the West Coast battered the Pacific Northwest, claiming lives, destroying homes and businesses, and decimating farmland and forest — the latter resulting in an unexpected silver lining of sorts. John Dodge was 14 at the time, living in the Olympia area with his family. He would go on to a 40-year, award-winning career in journalism, serving as columnist, editorial page writer, and investigative reporter for The Olympian before retiring in 2015.

John Dodge says many people who attend his talks about the Columbus Day Storm are seeking closure for the event they lived through 58 years ago. Dodge was a teenager living in Olympia when the storm hit in 1962.

In 2018, Oregon State University Press published his book, A Deadly Wind: The 1962 Columbus Day Storm.  Dodge will kick off the Cannon Beach History Center & Museum’s lecture series on Jan. 16 with a presentation about that deadly day.

The free talk will be from 4 to 5 p.m.  Plan to arrive early, as no one will be admitted after 4:15.

We talked with Dodge about his memories and his research. His comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Where were you when the storm hit?

I was at a football game and right before kickoff, a state trooper came out and told everyone to go home — a big storm is coming. Right about then, the lights went out and the winds kicked up. We lived in the woods in a very rural area on property with a lot of Douglas firs. Our fear was our house was really vulnerable and we didn’t think it would be safe there. So our family went to a friend’s house in a suburban development. Then a tree came down. We were lucky not to be in the room where the tree fell. Later, after the storm had passed, Dad and I got in our truck and drove back to the house. Lo and behold, there were trees all over, but nothing hit the house. It was one of those ironies, we went to a house to get safe from the trees only to be struck by a tree.

Among the casualties of the 1962 Columbus Day storm was the Campbell Hall bell tower at the Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University) in Monmouth. The iconic photo shot by college student Wes Luchau illustrates the cover of John Dodge’s book, “A Deadly Wind.”

What is notable for you about the storm?

Most notable is that it seems the number of fatalities and injuries could have been much greater. There were a lot of “there but for the grace of God go I” type of experiences. I tallied 63 direct and indirect deaths. Indirect would be folks who died of, say, a heart attack the next day cleaning up debris or someone who fell off their roof trying to attach a TV antenna. Direct deaths — people who died in the storm — are closer to 46. There were 300 serious injuries requiring someone to be hospitalized.

We’re used to some big wind here on the Coast. How big was this?

The highest peak winds were probably at Cape Blanco (four miles north of Port Orford) on the headland. There was a Coast Guard station there. Their wind gauge blew out before the worst of the winds arrived. When it blew out, they had already recorded a 145 mph gust. Most of those at the station thought the winds hit 175 to 185 mph gusts. There were sustained winds of over 110 mph. That would be the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane. Ground zero of the storm was the Willamette Valley. You’ll find the most harrowing stories coming from Salem, Eugene, Corvallis, and Portland. People succumbed to the wind all the way to Vancouver, B.C.

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