Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Genealogy Serendipity Moments - Columbus Day Storm 1962

Friday, October 12, 1962 was an event that will long be remembered by those who were living in Portland, Oregon. Being only eight years old, my perspective of the event is still very clear, but limited. So, I called my mother to ask her a few questions. For her the event was more traumatic, being a young mother of four children ages 8,7,5 and 1. We lived in a small two-story house, with a living room, kitchen, bathroom, two bedrooms and a garage downstairs. Upstairs there were two dormer type rooms, where we children usually slept. We lived in a neighborhood of similar type homes, built as though from the same cookie cutter.

Throughout the day there had been some wind, but no rain. The wind came from the south and was the result of an extratropical cyclone. Our father had returned home from work at about 4 P.M. At about 6 P.M. the sky became very dark and it felt very eerie. Then a large gust of wind hit our neighborhood and the lights went out. My mother looked out the front window in time to see the neighbor' house across the street lose its chimney, it falling down on their car parked in the driveway. At about the same time there was a thunderous noise and our house shook. The very large Willow Tree in our backyard was uprooted and now lay across our patio cover and over part of the house. We hunkered down in the living room and I am sure my mother prayed for our very safety.

Just as quickly as this occurred the calm seemed to be restored. We spent the night sleeping together in the living room. For two days we did not have electricity. People came and helped to cut up the tree and haul it away. It left a pretty good sinkhole in the ground. Power lines were down everywhere, so we were not allowed to go anywhere. Our grandparents had no power for ten days. They lived in St. Johns and in going to their home to take supplies we saw how destructive this storm really was. On Columbia Blvd. the power poles came down like match sticks. Trees were down everywhere and people were cleaning up the mess left by this awful storm.

According to the Oregonian newspaper, "The Columbus Day Storm of Oct. 12, 1962, aka "The Big Blow," was among the most intense in recorded history of the Pacific Northwest. Wind gusts reached 116 mph in downtown Portland, cities lost power for 2 to 3 weeks, more than 50,000 homes were damaged, and 38 people died, according to the National Weather Service."

While I enjoy the rainstorms that come to the Portland area, whenever there is a dry wind I feel a sense of apprehension about another possible windstorm. Thankfully they do not occur very often in this part of the world. Do you have a serendipity moment like this from your childhood?

Now, the Oregon Historical Society is looking for photos, film footage, artifacts, diary entries and personal stories from that day for an exhibit opening Oct. 12, 2012, commemorating the storm's 50th anniversary. Anyone interested in contributing should email the historical society at or call 503-222-1741.

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