Any Salem resident who lived through the Columbus Day Storm
will never for-get it. Although it is generally believed to
have been a hurricane, the Columbus Day Storm was actually
an "extra tropical cyclone," a weather pattern formed
when a cool air mass meets up with a warm one. In addition,
the Columbus Day Storm traveled very fast: nearly 1,800 miles
in less than one-and-a-half days, much faster than a hurricane.
At its peak, between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. that Friday, it brought
gusts of 90 m.p.h. and sustained winds of over 70 m.p.h.,
and the total damages to Salem, at $4 million, were higher
than for any disaster the City had yet seen. One in every
three homes in Salem was damaged by the Columbus Day Storm.
The storm came with little warning and hit hard. It crossed
the Oregon-Califor-nia border on Friday, October 12, at noon,
moving north at 48 m.p.h., reaching Salem at mid-afternoon.
The ferocity of the winds as they roared through Sa-lem shocked
residents. In downtown, stunned pedestrians screamed as they
were hit by glass from shattering windows, and dodged flying
debris of all kinds. Shoppers trying desperately to get home
were knocked to the ground by the wind. A brick wall fell
on three City employees standing on the sidewalk. Cars were
blown onto sidewalks and yards. The large sign on the roof
of the Elsinore Theater was battered and crumpled by the wind.
The Marion Motor Hotel lost part of a wall on the Commercial
Street side, and part of a wall at the Capitol Press Building
fell onto two cars; rain then poured into the building. The
steeple was torn from the Christ Lutheran Church at 18th and
State Streets and dropped onto the sidewalk. St. Paul's Episcopal
Church on Liberty Street also lost its steeple, its point
spearing the ground like a javelin. Trees were blown over
At McNary Field, hangars were damaged, as were twelve planes,
some of which were overturned. Witnesses said winds were so
strong that pieces of the concrete foundation of one hangar
were actually lifted from the ground. Parks in the City were
all hard hit, in particular Willson Park, which lost so many
trees that it would take a State crew one month, working every
day, to clean it up. A spruce toppled the three-and-a-quarter-ton
"Circuit Rider" statue, splitting it at the seams.
Court Street was completely blocked by fallen trees, which
had damaged a dozen cars on the street. Two teenagers were
killed when the car they were driving was hit by a tree. On
the River, small boats were torn from their moorings.
Power was knocked out all over the State, Salem being no
exception. Thou-sands lost their electricity, and a Greyhound
bus driver was quoted as saying he had seen no lights in the
Willamette Valley on a trip between Eugene and Port-land.
Some City residents went more than a week without electricity
and, in rural areas, up to three weeks. Local repair crews
were augmented by crews from Spokane, Washington, and stores
reported runs on candles, campstoves, and white gas. Seven
thousand Salem residents lost their phone service, and Northwest
Natural Gas reported some broken gas lines. Radio and television
towers were knocked over. Lack of water became a problem in
hilly areas of the city - including Fairmount Hill, Candalaria,
and West Salem, when loss of electricity shut down the pumps.
In the farming areas surrounding Salem, agricultural damage
was heavy. Walnut and filbert crops were damaged when the
nuts were blown down early and trees were uprooted and split.
Crops of cauliflower, broccoli, sweet and field corn sustained
A street crew of 25 men began clean up operations Friday
night while the storm still raged, concentrating on creating
a single lane through tree-blocked streets. The National Guard
was called out to prevent looting of businesses with blown-out
windows and holes in their buildings, and the Red Cross began
assisting people in need of food and shelter. Governor Mark
Hatfield declared the entire State an emergency disaster area,
requesting $2.7 million in Federal aid.
On Saturday, October 13, he declared, "Oregon is on
the way back. People are exhibiting their pioneer spirit in
Somewhat ironically, the day after the storm was beautiful
and warm, a perfect day on which to begin the giant task of
cleaning up after such a storm.
Compiled and written by Kathleen Carlson Clements
Taylor, George and Raymond R. Hatton. The Oregon Weather
Book: A State of Extremes. Corvallis: Oregon State University,
Statesman-Journal, October 11, 1987
Oregon Statesman, October 13-16, 1962