Columbus Day Storm of 1962: 50th Anniversary

Corvallis' Van Buren Street Bridge after the 1962 Columbus Day Storm

Fifty years ago on Columbus Day, a tremendous storm devastated the Pacific Northwest. The remnants of a tropical storm encountered ideal storm-creation conditions off the California coast, and the resulting high-energy tempest blasted up the Willamette Valley at about 40 miles per hour. Here in Corvallis, wind gusts hit 127 miles per hour. The weather station’s operator fled, reporting the post abandoned due to high winds—the only time this has happened in the Pacific Northwest. Many anemometers, devices that measure wind speed, were destroyed completely during the event.

It was the deadliest storm in history, with almost 50 fatalities and hundreds more injured in Oregon and Washington. Airborne debris and gusts of wind destroyed homes and businesses, and snapped branches and uprooted trees, blowing down more trees than the combined annual harvest of Oregon and Washington combined. Even old growth trees suffered, suggesting that the storm was unusual even beyond the historic records of such events. It also caused most of western Oregon to lose power—some towns went weeks without electricity. In Corvallis, the Van Buren Street Bridge suffered severe damage. Countless trees on campus and around town were damaged, along with acres of surrounding farmland, orchards, and forests.

To learn more about the event, visit the Oregon History Museum’s exhibition, “The Mightiest Wind: The 1962 Columbus Day Storm,” opening on Friday, Oct. 12 in Portland. The exhibit offers photos, artifacts, film footage of the storm, oral histories, and a wind machine that allows you to experience storm conditions.

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By Jen Matteis