Having been thoroughly impressed with the strong windstorms of November 14 and 15, 1981, I later typed out a little "book" (though they did exist in primitive form, word processors weren't readily available to me in the early 80s) in 1982 about the events, using notes from my weather journal to refresh my memory. In this accounting, I've included some commentary to help clarify locations and such (anything in the [ ] brackets). I've corrected spelling, and modified some sentences for clarity, but this is about 95% true to what was written.

I note here that this anecdote includes a falling tree that almost hit my brother. This is a reminder that these storms are potential killers. Also, I lived in Renton, WA, at the time, on the hill east of the Kent Valley, at an elevation of about 460 feet.

For the photos, I used a very limited 126 format camera--most shots came out underexposed, but I've doctored them up a little bit in Adobe Photoshop to help enhance contrast.

Following the anecdote are some details about these two storms.

The Windstorms of Nov 14, Year 1981

When I came home on that fateful Friday [the 13th] the pressure was 29.21 inches and falling. I suspected there would be a windstorm [a lesson learned from the February 1979 storm]. So I called Dad and told him. Then I went outside for a walk in The Forest [a greenbelt to the east of my condominium home] and that's when I thought about listening to the weather-radio. So I ran home and turned it on. It said: There is a major low pressure center off the coast of California and we would experience winds of 40 to 50 miles per hour with occasional gusts higher. Bring all loose objects such as garbage cans, lawn chairs, etc. inside.

I waited all day and through the evening for the storm to hit. All it did was just get cloudier. Then at 12:00 AM the wind was dead calm. We (Derek [my older brother], Dad, and Me) were watching TV at the time [some kung-fu movie]. Two gusts hit, only two. I estimate them to be around 25 mph. Then it got dead calm again and the pressure stood at 28.98 inches and falling. After that we went to bed. I left the bedroom window open so we could hear the wind.

In the morning Derek woke me up and I heard the wind blowing through the cottonwood trees. It was 7:34. I walked into the livingroom and turned the TV to Channel 18 [community ads and local weather] and watched the wind speed slowly diminish from 36 to 26 mph. I got the newspaper out and read about the windstorm. It said that 1 person was killed and the wind blew well over 50 mph. The last paragraph said that a second windstorm was coming. So I listened to the weather-radio and it said that the winds would start to blow 35 to 45 miles per hour with occasional gusts higher as the second windstorm hit.

Then I went outside to see what damage the windstorm did. I headed to The Forest first. Since the four cottonwoods in the southeastern corner of the complex were by my path I checked them first. Two large branches were cracked off them but no trees were blown over. Then I walked to The Forest. I walked on the path that headed to the fort, nothing but a few alder branches down. Then I walked through the fort and along the path that was by the fence. A large cottonwood branch was lying there, a long one. It was about 15 ft. long and 6 inches in diameter. I walked the full length of the trail noticing twigs and branches stuck in the fence and all over the ground. I turned left to get on the rock by the carports. There was another large cottonwood branch that was snapped off. It was lying on the carport roof [pictured to the left]. I walked south back up the rocks and climbed the fence to get in the other part of The Forest. No trees down there either. So I began to think the storm wasn't so strong...

[Page 3 is missing-lost to the vagaries of time, I suspect, so I will fill in directly from the weather journal, then resume at the top of page 4.]

...Then I went to Thunder Hill [apartments] to see what happened there. The Poplar [a huge black cottonwood near the street] lost four 8-foot-long branches. I walked down the small hill and noticed a fallen dead Douglas fir [it was needle-less]. I turned around and saw a fallen alder tree split at the 5 foot level [pictured below, to the right]. I went home to tell Dad about what had happened.

After Dad left to run I went outside back down to Thunder Hill to look at the damage again. The second windstorm was coming upon me now. As I rode down there I noticed something was missing. The giant Poplar had crashed down and was lying flat against the sidewalk [pictured straight below]. I rode down the road through Thunder Hill and noticed a pussy willow tree almost fell across the road. It was suspended over the road by other alder trees. I rode down lower. Almost at the end of the road and I saw a small Douglas fir blocking half the road. I went home to tell Derek and Mara [my younger sister] about the Poplar tree. After I told them, I went back outside to watch the workmen saw the branches off the Poplar tree. Now the second windstorm was upon us...

[Back to the typed book:] ...ting gustier and large cold raindrops were blowing down, but they were horizontal. I sat on my bike for a while then I went home. The wind calmed a little (I got pictures during the time). Then after awhile the winds started to pick up again.

I went back up to The Forest again and saw a tree lying across the rocks. It was an alder. After I checked the alder I climbed the fence and found a pussy willow tree snapped there too.

I came back home and told Derek about the tree. So he came back up with me and took a look.

After that we went to the Power Lines [a Puget-Power owned corridor for transmission lines that is full of woodlots]. The first thing we found was an alder lying across the trail. It was a huge bushy strong one that snapped at the 5 ft. level. We walked along the main trail heading north and found two more fallen alders. As we walked the trail the wind increased sharply, very sharply, I was almost blown down by the cold gusts which roared through the trees with the sound of a jet engine. We came to a four-lane intersection. There was a large power pole west of us and there were trees all around us. The wind picked up. I watched a cottonwood tree lose one of its largest branches in the gust. Then a whole swarm of twigs flew off behind it. We turned around to go home. As we walked along the trail we saw an alder get uprooted with a deep ripping sound and a flop to the ground like a dead fish. As we walked past the tree that was once a magnificent tall cottonwood, a gust completely impeded our progress (it had to be over 50 mph).

At home, the wind ripped through our chimney and slammed into our building. The roof was creaking and groaning in the heavy gusts and the sky was covered in a thick mantle of gray. The cottonwoods [in The Forest] were bending, swaying and cracking as the uncaring wind ripped across the sky. I watched a hemlock lose some of its large branches as the wind blew. Twigs from the cottonwoods blew all over the place and landed everywhere. Leaves blew hundreds of feet into the air and some whipped along the ground as the 50 mile-per-hour wind whipped the area. The storm was finally upon us.

After awhile of watching TV, listening to the roof crack and watching branches falling off the trees, Eric [my best friend] came over. We decided to go to Eric's Forest [a woodlot behind his townhouse with a creek running through the middle]. It had lots of Douglas firs and alder trees in it and it was the peak of the storm, so why not?

It was about 4:30 PM at the time. The wind blew in long steady gusts and the trees groaned in it. The Douglas firs swayed so far I thought they were going to fall. [Picture to right was taken during a gust--the photo has a tare.] Branches rained down on us and leaves were everywhere. I noticed that the two storms up to that time had cracked seven tops off of a cluster of twelve cottonwoods and alders at the south edge of the forest, up the slope. In the excitement of the wind, we started playing a game, leaping across the deeply incised creek's shoreline. Derek ran across the creek bed and stopped for an instant. Then he ran back. As he did so, a Douglas fir that I was standing by (only 1 ft. away!) snapped in two and made its long journey downward. [I remember clearly staring at the falling trunk, dumbfounded by it's suddenness--the gust it broke in didn't seem any different from the others.] Derek jumped and ran right underneath it as it was falling and then it slammed into a hill. We stayed a little longer to watch the seemingly endless swarms of branches fall down and then we walked home.

Before night fell I checked the forest one more time. Another tree fell. It was a birch.

That night on the news they said another windstorm was coming. I never knew if it hit but I think it died before it did.


The damage was almost unbelievable. Eight people killed [maybe less than this] in Washington, houses smashed, cars crushed, power out, windows shattering, but I will not get into that area. Here is what happened in the power lines and the surrounding area:

Five trees were felled on our block and over fifteen lost their tops. No tree that fell on our block caused any damage. But the wind damage is a different story.

The wind blew shingles off of the roofs and hurled them into walls and windows (causing some of them to break). A Plexiglas covering over the stairs of the "A" building was completely shattered. I don't know how much it cost to repair one of those but it must have been a lot.

The forest damage was great, too.

In The Forest on the other side of the fence there was considerable damage done. on the edge of this forest so many bows and branches were snapped off and thrown around that this part of The Forest was almost impassible. But with the help of a machete I made it through.

In the Power Lines there was a part that was so wind-torn one tree was cracked three ways in a zigzag fashion. The Power Lines lost over fifty trees.

In a forest by Phillip Arnold Park the storm nearly damaged every tree. In the park, a birch fell and so did two maples. Branches and leaves covered the ground. The forest [east of the park] was laid waste. Hemlocks, maples, (and I mean big maples) alders and Douglas firs were either snapped or uprooted. One hemlock was uprooted and it left a 4 ft. deep hole in the ground. Another hemlock snapped at the 20 foot level [pictured to left] and fell on a maple, shearing all the branches off. [It is noteworthy that most of these large falls occurred along the edge of a woodlot that was being cleared for a new subdivision--these trees used to be sheltered by others, and so their root systems were probably not as prepared for high wind as they might have been.]

The End

A note about the above anecdote. A glance at the pressure record from the NWS Office at Sand Point Way in Seattle, shows at quick barometric rise to 29.96" by 00:00 HRS on the 15th (see also the meteogram for the Sea-Tac Airport below). Thus, the winds I kept attributing to the second storm during the day of the 14th in the above anecdote were actually still the result of infill from the first storm. Indeed, in considering the timeline of my anecdote, the large cottonwood fell in the first real gusts of the windstorm, and the peak was hitting while my brother and I watched from inside our home. We visited Eric's forest in the dying blasts of wind from the first storm as the pressure leaped from 29.46" at 12:00 (at NWS, Seattle) to 29.72" at 15:00 and then kept climbing to 29.88" by 18:00. After the second storm's center quickly raced northward up the coast, and then passed by (the pressure fell 2/3" in 12 hrs), the barometer shot up to 30.01" by 00:00 HRS on the 16th. The difference in wind speed between the first and second storms was profound where I lived, for I didn't think of it as being much more than a typical blustery day.

Last Modified: July 7, 2004
Page Created: August 1, 2001

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