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Plant your flag!

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About fifty years ago, I received a wonderful gift from a friend of the family. It was a colorful flag, just the thing for a three-year-old boy. I ran around with it for a while, watching it flap merrily along. Then I planted it in the front garden, where I could see it waving in the wind from inside our house.

That evening was a bit unusual, as my father was unable to come home from work. My mother made dinner and then read to me by candlelight, frequently warning me to stay away from the living room's large picture window. Several times, I asked about the strange noises from outside, and each time my mother answered that it was the wind. I had some difficulty believing her, as I had heard wind many times before, and it had never sounded anything at all like what I was hearing that evening. My mother eventually put me to bed, and when I woke up the next morning, my father had returned home.

In short, at the time, I was not all that impressed by the Columbus Day Storm of October 12, 1962. Of course, anyone unfortunate enough to have experienced Hurricane Camille or Hurricane Katrina won't be much impressed, either, but then again, tropical hurricanes are in a class of their own.

Others were plenty impressed, though. Wind gusts in excess of 160 miles an hour were reported in several places, although the actual maximum wind speed was often unknown. In some cases, anemometers were pegged at their maximum readings for extended periods of time, in other cases the anemometers were blown off their roofs, and in at least one case the wind took out the entire weather station for good measure. There were casualties, but the Pacific Northwest being what it is, far more trees than people perished. Property damage was such that one of the casualties of the Columbus Day Storm was an insurance company.

One reason for the casualties was lack of preparation. You see, there were no weather satellites back then, and, unlike the Gulf Coast, the Pacific Northwest did not fly hurricane-hunter airplane patrols. The weather forecast called for a typical winter gale, and the only indication that this forecast might be overly optimistic was a radio report from a ship out in the Pacific. This report featured not only unbelievably high winds and seas, but also barometer readings that dropped by an equally unbelievable 0.66 inches of mercury over the course of only two hours. Because malfunctioning ship-board equipment is not all that uncommon, the weathermen upgraded their forecast only after barometers along the coast of northern California started dropping like rocks. But even then, they expected “only” 70-mile-per-hour winds.

It is a ill wind that blows no good, and this storm was no exception. For example, one man worked in southern Oregon and lived in Portland, at the northern end of the state. He spent his weeks at work and his weekends with his family. His drive up to Portland normally took a full tank of gas, but on that Friday evening, he made the trip wind-assisted on only a quarter tank. Other people driving north on I5 that evening reported seeing barns keeping up with traffic. Needless to say, the casualties among livestock were not inconsequential.

But from my three-year-old viewpoint, it was not all that big a deal. Sure, the power went out, but my dad managed to scrounge a diesel generator the very next day. Not only did our unassuming house somehow manage to escape damage, but there were absolutely no fallen trees or power lines within sight of our house.

But my parents were completely unable to explain the disappearance of my prized flag to my satisfaction. They just kept repeating this insane story about how it had been blown away by the wind. ;-)

Comments

paulmck
Oct. 15th, 2012 06:39 pm (UTC)
;-) ;-) ;-)