Columbus Day Storm remains a fearsome memory
Trees toppled, roofs torn off, cars blown into ditches: 50 years later, witnesses still remember the gale with a shudder
Herald File 1962
Police block off a street in north Everett where a tree had fallen in the Columbus Day Storm on Oct. 12, 1962. Many old maple trees in the north Everett neighborhoods were victims of the storm.
Herald File 1962
A fallen tree in front of the Mission Building on the Snohomish County Courthouse Campus in Everett was among the wreckage of the Columbus Day Storm.
Herald File 1962 Branches were strewn in streets and roads across Snohomish County on the night of of the Columbus Day Storm on Oct. 12, 1962.
Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the Columbus Day windstorm, which still reigns as the region's worst -- and deadliest -- Big Blow on record.
"We made it out of Memorial Stadium all right, only to nearly be squished to death by panicked drivers as we tried to run across Colby," recalled Linda Tucker Wright, now 65 and still living in Everett.
The storm packed hurricane-force winds left over from Typhoon Freda, which rolled in from Asia to the West Coast. From the San Francisco Bay to lower British Columbia, the storm had sustained winds and gusts of 50 to 150 mph. It left about 50 people dead, hundreds more injured and property damage estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, equal to more than $1 billion today.
Nearly 50 million board feet of trees were blown over in the Snoqualmie National Forest alone, with estimates of nearly 15 billion board feet of timber downed from northern California to B.C. In nine Washington counties, some of the snapped power and telephone lines weren't repaired for a week or more.
The storm was loud, ferocious and downright scary.
Just ask anybody in his or her mid-50s or older who lived through it.
Brad Hovik, 66, of Marysville, took a break from homework on the evening of Oct. 12, 1962, to help milk the cows on his family's dairy off Shoultes Road.
The wind tossed the 16-year-old Hovik to the ground as he walked out the back door. Then a piece of heavy corrugated steel roofing blew off the tool shed, missing Hovik's face by inches.
"My dad saw this and ushered me into the barn just as the power went out. We had to milk by hand. Normally it took a couple hours to milk 30 cows, but by hand it took us three hours to milk 10 cows," Hovik said. "I remember my hands cramped up after the first two cows and by the last cow, we were in agony."
Hovik's wife, Nancy, grew up on Sunnyside hill of Marysville and she remembers watching the lights go off in Everett and Marysville and on the Tulalip Reservation.
"We watched big fir tree branches blow by the window … They were hitting the house and you could hear shingles being ripped off the roof. This went on for hours," Nancy Hovik said.
Ted Buehner in the Seattle office of the National Weather Service calls the Columbus Day Storm the event by which all other state storms are compared. It was the "strongest non-tropical windstorm ever to hit the lower 48 states," he said.
In 1962, the population of Washington state was about 3 million. Today it's closer to 7 million. I-5 and the Evergreen Floating Bridge were still under construction. A similar storm today would be much more devastating, Buehner said.
The front page of the Oct. 12, 1962, Everett Daily Herald, then an afternoon newspaper, included a photo of an elementary school gym in Gold Beach, Ore. The wind tore the roof from the school and blew the walls down. Had it happened two hours later, more than 400 children would have been assembled in the gym, the principal told the Associated Press.
Oregon was hit especially hard, but the storm ravaged northern California, too. The sixth game of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the visiting New York Yankees was postponed.
Here, other games besides Everett High's were canceled.
At the Lake Stevens football game that night, referee Robert Shane of Lynnwood watched the first half kickoff go straight up in the air and land about five yards behind the boy who kicked it. In the second half, the kick went back over the end zone and into the trees.
"We had to get another ball to continue the game," Shane said. He called the game when the stadium lights went out. "We officials struggled in the dark back to the locker room to get our clothes and go home."
Bill Sehorn, then 13 and living with his family in the Machias area, was at Brown's Snohomish Theater to watch a movie, as he did most Friday nights. He remembers the electricity going out and that the plate-glass windows were blown out of the clothing store on the corner.
"I couldn't call my mom because the telephone lines were down, but I hoped she would know to come get me," said Sehorn, who now lives in Everett. "While I waited, the Brown family started handing out free ice cream bars, which had already started to melt because of the power outage."
On Oct. 13, The Daily Herald's centerpiece headline read "Giant Storm Leaves Trail of Death and Destruction."
Among the dead was Jack Wilson, 28, of Sultan, who was working on the Snohomish County Public Utility District's dam on the Sultan River. He died when a tree fell on the construction site. Four other men were hospitalized. Many of the storm deaths were from falling trees.
In Mountlake Terrace, police reported three burglaries during the storm. At the phone company office there, Utahna Munyon, now 79, was one of a dozen operators working that night.
"The police locked us in because of the danger just outside the office," she said. "Since we were there, we kept on working. The switchboard was lit up like a Christmas tree, with people reporting telephone lines down. All we could say was, 'Yes, we know.' We finally were relieved from duty on Sunday morning.
"I learned to cook in the fireplace, but I never want to go through a storm like that again."
The county sheriff's office and Everett police couldn't keep up with the high volume of calls. The numerous traffic accidents reported included cars blown into ditches.
The Mukilteo ferry stopped running. At Paine Field, airplanes were blown upside down. Fallen power lines caused fires, boats on the Everett waterfront were set adrift and the air raid tower atop Everett City Hall was blown down. People on Grand Avenue in north Everett mourned the loss of the city's oldest maple trees as they came crashing down one after another.
As if the storm itself wasn't enough, in Spanaway two backyard lions escaped from their pen. They attacked three people including a little boy and their owner, who had to have her pet lions shot. In Seattle, a woman claimed that during the storm lightning hurled a ball of fire into her kitchen and was so hot it cooked the two eggs she planned to use for baking.
In Ballard, John Meyer, now 83 and living in south Snohomish County, spend that Columbus day repairing power lines for Seattle City Light.
"We would get a wire up and a tree would come down and we'd start over. It was wild. I left the house at 3 p.m. that day and got home about four days later," said Meyer, who later worked for the Snohomish County PUD. "We've had some healthy storms since then, but nothing comes close to that Columbus Day storm."
At the Seattle World's Fair that day, Laurie Post, now 58, of Everett, remembers looking up at the Space Needle as it swayed slightly in the wind.
Nancy Mitchell, now 85, of Lake Stevens, had taken her sons, then 8 and 12, out of school for a last trip to the World's Fair. Throughout the summer she had declined to ride to the top of the Space Needle, blaming her reluctance on the long lines for the elevator instead of her fear of heights.
"On the day of the storm, of course, there were no lines. The boys said I had no excuse. At the top, I decided to call my mother. I asked her to guess where I was. 'Well, I hope you're at home,' she said, 'because there's a terrible storm coming.' Just then a guard knocked on the door of the phone booth and told us that if we didn't leave now, we would be walking down," Mitchell said. "I still don't like going up the Space Needle."
Jean Bochan still lives on Seattle Hill Road, which was a gravel road in 1962 and a busy Mill Creek area thoroughfare today.
Freelance loggers salvaged wood from many of the trees that blew own.
"An old Douglas fir took out the corner of our carport and we were without electricity and telephone for about a week," said Bochan, 73. "We were lucky. It was the worst storm I've ever been through. It just roared. That was a long time ago, but it could happen again."
While many people remember the fear and the destruction, some have humorous memories.
Joy Hunt of Lake Stevens was 23 that year. After attending a candlelight wedding in Granite Falls on the evening of the storm, she and her husband headed out. However, all the routes home were blocked by downed trees and crackling power lines.
"My husband saw a lantern glowing from a house. We knocked on the door and asked if we could stay the night. The lady there was about 90 years old. She was smoking, drinking shots of whiskey and playing solitaire. She made up her bed for us, but told us there was to be no hanky-panky," Hunt said. "We were up at dawn and left a $20 bill on her pillow on the couch. That was a lot of money back then."
Read more recollections of the storm here or share your own in the comments below.
Reporter Gale Fiege was only 5 years old on Oct. 12, 1962, but she remembers the roaring wind that blew down the fence her dad had built around their house in Mountlake Terrace. Several of her neighbors had Douglas firs crash through their houses. To contact Fiege: 425-339-3427 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sources: Historylink.org; Office of the Washington State Climatologist, www.climate.washington.edu; The Everett Daily Herald, 1962.