Olympia author shares memories of Columbus Day storm
Longtime Olympian writer John Dodge’s “A Deadly Wind” is an in-depth look at the Columbus Day Storm of 1962, the most powerful and destructive West Coast storm in recorded history.
“It was a force of nature so much greater than man,” meteorologist, professor and KNKX radio commentator Cliff Mass told Dodge in an interview for the book. “This was almost like a religious event.
“I’d tell someone what I was working on, and if they’d lived through the storm, they’d immediately launch into their storm memory,” said Dodge, who’ll talk about the book Monday at the Capitol Theater in Olympia. “It’s kind of like, ‘Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated?’ or ‘Where were you when the Challenger exploded at takeoff?’ All those things are seared in our minds.”
The storm began in the Pacific Ocean as Typhoon Freda and hit Oregon and Washington Oct. 12 and 13, 1962. The book explains how the storm occurred and why it came as a surprise to most.
But “Wind” isn’t just for weather geeks.
“There’s something in the book for history buffs and for people who enjoy good human drama, and there’s enough weather science to make it understandable to the layperson,” said Dodge, who spent more than 30 years as a reporter and columnist for The Olympian before his retirement in 2015
“I consider myself a storyteller, and I’m always looking for good stories,” he said.
There were plenty of those to be found among the dramatic statistics:
- At least 60 people died and hundreds were hurt.
- More than 50,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.
- So many trees were felled that the storm started both Washington’s timber exports and the Willamette Valley’s booming wine industry.
Dodge spent six years reporting and writing the book, speaking with survivors about their stories great and small.
Priscilla Julien spent three weeks in the hospital after she was literally blown off her feet while crossing the street in downtown Portland. Seven-year-old Charley Brammer of Spanaway was mauled by a lion whose wooden enclosure had blown down and “came within a whisker of losing an eyeball,” Dodge said. (How a neighbor family came to own a pair of pet lions remains a mystery, he said, but Brammer survived the attack and now works as a plumber at the Western Washington Fairgrounds.)
One of the storm stories is Dodge’s own. He was 14 years old at the time, and his family lived in a wooded area near Lacey.
“I was at a North Thurston football game when the lights started blinking and the wind started howling,” he said. “A state trooper came out on the field and told everybody to go home, that there was a big storm coming. The grandstands emptied.”
The Dodge family went to the home of friends who lived in a development, thinking they’d be safer away from the big trees near their own home. A tree fell on the friends’ roof that night, but no one was hurt.
The Dodge home was undamaged, as John Dodge and his father discovered when they went back to check on it.
“I will never forget driving home with my dad that night in an old pickup truck and having the wind just about bring us to a halt,” he said. “We were driving into the wind and it was so strong that the truck slowed down.”
The storm, which had the force of Hurricane Katrina striking New Orleans, was the biggest of its kind in the lower 48 states until Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast on Oct. 22, 2012, Dodge said. But even Sandy never achieved the wind speeds of the Columbus Day Storm.
Dodge’s decision to write the book came just before Sandy, right around the 50th anniversary of the storm he remembers so well.
On his popular blog, Cliff Mass had written a post encouraging someone to write a book about the storm, so much more powerful and destructive than “The Perfect Storm” memorialized in the 2000 George Clooney film. “Our storm is a hell of a lot more perfect than theirs!” he wrote on Oct. 15, 2012.
“I took it on as a challenge and quickly learned that nobody had done a book on the storm,” Dodge said. “It seemed like ripe topic.”
“It amazes me that the book about the Northwest’s most devastating storm was still out there waiting to be written when John Dodge got around to it five decades after it ripped through here,” said novelist Jim Lynch, who’ll introduce his friend at Monday’s book launch party. “If a storm of similar size hit us these days, there’d be round-the-clock news updates a week in advance and a week afterwards.
“With modern weather forecasting so precise, it’s hard to imagine getting blindsided by such a massive typhoon, but that’s what makes ‘A Deadly Wind’ such a wonderful timepiece as well as a remarkable reporting accomplishment.”
‘A Deadly Wind’
Former Olympian reporter and columnist John Dodge launches his nonfiction book “A Deadly Wind” about the Columbus Day Storm of 1962 with a reading and presentation this week in Olympia. Novelist Jim Lynch will introduce Dodge, and autographed copies of “Wind” will be available.
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Capitol Theater, 206 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia
Tickets: Free, with donations accepted to benefit the Olympia Film Society
More information: 360-754-6670, olympiafilmsociety.org
More book events: Dodge will talk about the book at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Olympia Country and Golf Club, 636 Country Club Road NW, Olympia, and at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Lacey Timberland Library, 500 College St. SE, Lacey. Both events are free.