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How bad was the Columbus Day Storm of 1962, anyway?

Many are comparing this weekend’s storm to that one

As a series of Pacific storms, one of which is what’s left of a typhoon, bears down on the Pacific Northwest, it might be hard to know exactly what to expect.

There is, however, one historical storm that a lot of people seem to be pointing to as a potential comparison: The Columbus Day Storm of 1962. Also, you know a storm must have been bad when it has it’s own Wikipedia page.

But how bad was it? Let’s find out (and try not to get too scared).

The main reason folks like Cliff Mass are drawing comparisons between this weekend’s storm and that one is that they both started relatively the same way. The 1962 storm began as Typhoon Freda, which started in the central Pacific and became an extratropical cyclone as it moved into colder waters towards the American west coast. The storm first hit California and moved up along the coast until it bore down on the Pacific Northwest, eventually weakening above Vancouver Island and moving inland.

Almost all reporting stations west of the Cascades reported winds over 60 miles per hour while many of them recorded winds exceeded 100 miles per hour. Here in Seattle, winds were recorded as high as 83 miles per hour. At the coast, it’s estimated in some spots that winds got as high as 179 miles per hour.

All-told, 46 deaths were attributed to the storm and the front page of The Seattle Daily Times actually referred to it as “murderous.” More than 11 billion board feet of timber was knocked down across California, Oregon, and Washington combined (that’s more than an entire year’s worth of output from Oregon & Washington). Damage cost estimates were around $230 - $280 million for the three states, which translates to about $1.8 - $2.2 billion today.

The incoming storm system is actually made up of three different fronts but the last one to arrive will be the remainder of Typhoon Songda, which is currently transforming into an extratropical storm as it moves towards the west coast. Sound familiar?

One other thing that might be a bit disconcerting. Per, Freda’s peak was as a Category 2 equivalent intensity while Songda’s peak is as a high-end Category 4. It’s not exactly the same, but at their height, Songda was stronger than Freda.

In other words, heed the warnings of the Columbus Day Storm of 1962 and be prepared.