They tell me I slept through the whole thing.
Even after a birch tree fell onto the roof of our house in New Era, Oregon, knocked over the chimney and sent a brick flying through our dining room window — even after my father screamed, I slumbered on.
But then, I was less than 4 months old on Friday, Oct. 12, 1962 — the date remembered by Northwest residents as that of the Columbus Day Storm.
“Every survivor of that storm has vivid memories of it,” said John Dodge, who ought to know: He wrote the book.
I didn’t tell him all my memories of that day are secondhand.
Dodge’s book, “A Deadly Wind: The 1962 Columbus Day Storm,” is new from Oregon State University Press. Dodge, a reporter for some 40 years who retired in 2015 from The Olympian newspaper in Olympia, Washington, said he sought to produce “a traditional nonfiction account of the storm. I wanted to make sure it hadn’t been written about in this detail before, or I wouldn’t have gone the distance,” he said.
And Dodge went the distance. The book runs to more than 200 pages, including several stunning photos and an amazing amount of historical context of the storm, which battered the West Coast from Northern California to British Columbia, a distance of over a thousand miles, and impacted 75,000 square miles of land, much of it covered with trees.
Dodge was a young teenager in Lacey, Washington, when he experienced what he describes as “the strongest windstorm I can find record of in the history of the region.” His family’s home was spared, but Dodge’s interest in the storm had been piqued and it would hold a lifelong fascination for him.
The storm hit Oregon the hardest.
“The Willamette Valley was ground zero — it was a wind tunnel for the storm, although the coast was battered,” Dodge said. The tempest took a northerly trajectory between the Coast Range and the Cascades, and very high winds blew for as long as two hours in some areas.
Oct. 12, 1962, is the only date in history a federal weather station in the Northwest has been abandoned due to stormy weather. The U.S. Weather Bureau observer at the Corvallis airport logged a gust of 127 mph at 4 p.m. The wind then knocked over the airport beacon and ripped the anemometer to pieces. The next entry in the log came at 4:15, tersely stating “Abandoned station.”
Photos show the Van Buren Street Bridge crumpled under fallen trees, and many more trees downed at OSU. Students in the OSU Forestry Department used chainsaws to remove trees from campus. After several days’ work, the students extended their services to Corvallis government and did much to clean up the town.
The Siuslaw National Forest adjacent to Corvallis received the most storm-caused damage of any national forest, Dodge said. More than two times the amount of timber allowed for harvest in a year was downed, equaling more than 740 million board feet. And the Marys Peak fire lookout was blown apart.
But a silly little storm was not going to interfere with more important things, like football. The game between OSU and the University of Washington proceeded as scheduled the next day at Multnomah Stadium in Portland. The Beavers were somehow bused north and played the game in a stadium whose roof had blown away; there was no hot water for postgame showers.
And it was a nail-biter: The final score was 14-13 in favor of Washington. The game was part of OSU quarterback Terry Baker’s storied run-up to winning the Heisman Trophy the following month.
Dodge’s far-ranging book includes the story of a 7-year-old resident of Spanaway, Washington, mauled by a pet lion that escaped during the chaos; how the storm fueled the Northwest’s log export market to Japan; how it helped give birth to the region’s wine industry; and even the event’s influence on the 1962 World Series and the World’s Fair in Seattle.
I asked Dodge how he planned to observe the 56th anniversary of the storm. “I don’t know,” he said with a chuckle. “Maybe I’ll go golfing.”
And how will I celebrate the anniversary of the great-granddaddy of Northwest storms? Well, I think I’m going to take a nap and see if I can recreate that deep slumber that allows you to ignore toppling chimneys, shattering windows and screaming parents.