Sunday, November 28, 2021
Nov. 28, 2021

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Clark County History: Columbus Day Storm

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Angry Freda battered Washington and Oregon on Oct. 12, 1962. About two weeks earlier, she formed just north of Wake Island. Pacific weather stations watched her increasing fury. By starting her spin just far enough north of the equator, she combined her twists with the spinning of the earth, creating what’s called the Coriolis effect that is associated with large-scale storms.

Even those who lived through her wrath diminish it, calling her the Columbus Day Storm or the Big Blow. But Freda was a typhoon, a corruption of a Chinese word meaning violent winds.

When Freda arrived, her ferociousness devastated cities and towns more than a hundred miles inland along the Pacific Coast from Canada to California. She doused the San Francisco area in rain falling so fast it created floods and mudslides. She disrupted power, leaving some folks without it for weeks. KGW-TV in Portland lost its tower and couldn’t broadcast for days.

When Freda assaulted Clark County, Pearson Field recorded gusts exceeding 90 miles per hour. C.J. Moss, a veteran weather observer, clocked faster winds — 92 mph. Portland officially measured 80 mph. Regardless of the wind’s speed, Freda crumpled three-quarters of Pearson’s planes like aluminum cans, pushing them into piles, flipping them topsy-turvy and leaving one standing ridiculously on its nose.

At local marinas, Freda ripped boats from moorings, crushed their sides and sunk them. The storm pounded historic buildings hard, including several Vancouver Barracks buildings, the Grant House, the Marshall House and the Red Cross building. Even the brick-built Providence Academy suffered $15,000 worth of damage (about $136,000 in today’s dollars). In Felida, the storm took out a barn.

Although the Portland weather bureau warned of Freda’s approach Friday at 10 a.m., somehow many county residents never got the word until later in the day. Perhaps it was the growing wind and darkening sky that alerted everyone and sent working parents home to check on their families and others to check on elderly neighbors who might need help.

With little thought of danger, Pat Kersteter, then a third-grader, recalled leaving school that Friday looking forward to watching the next episode of “Route 66” on television. About 5 p.m., the lights went out. She and her mother finished their supper by candlelight. “Route 66” would have to wait. Kersteter remembered Freda “hit quickly and with a deafening roar.” Two hours later, the worst was over. Freda’s rage felled trees and branches all over Clark County and across Evergreen Highway, breaking powerlines and rooflines. She snapped off the Old Apple Tree’s top. She trashed the Clark County Courthouse’s historic walnut tree. She chewed down between 11 and 15 million board feet of lumber from the Canadian border into northern California.

Freda took nearly 50 lives, and injured many more. In 1962 dollars, her overall property damage ran almost $300 million (about $2.7 billion today).


Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Reach him at ClarkCoHist@gmail.com.

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