94 Years & 2 Days Late; 120 mph Short

Jan 31, 2015 | 2 comments

North Head Lighthouse by Charles Fitzpatrick - courtesy CPHM

North Head Lighthouse by Charles Fitzpatrick – courtesy CPHM

According to Mike’s Long Beach Weather site, today looks to be another gorgeous day here at the beach – mostly sunny with a high of 61° and winds of 5 to 7 miles per hour out of the east. That’s a far cry from the weather of January 29, 1921.

It wasn’t until yesterday that I learned (through FaceBook, of course!) that I had missed that important 94-year-old anniversary of one of the most notable storms on the Peninsula. It was a storm that my mother talked about for the next eighty-plus years and people of her generation here on the Peninsula used as a measuring stick for every subsequent weather event of their lives.

According to information found on lighthousefriends.com, North Head is one of the windiest places in the United States, with wind velocities in excess of 100 mph being frequently measured. On January 29, 1921, winds were clocked at 126 mph before the measuring instrument blew away.

Methodist Church drawing by FitzpatrickIt was the day that the Methodist Church in Oysterville blew down. My mother said that her father gathered the family in our upstairs north bedroom where they could see the church three blocks to the north. As they watched, the steeple pitched back and forth in the gale, the church bell ringing eerily until the entire structure finally crashed to the ground. It was a lesson in the ‘Power of Mother Nature’ that none of the onlookers ever forgot.

Virginia Williams Jones, four years younger than my mother, recalled that 1921 storm in “Gin’s Tonic,” her recollections of growing up in Ilwaco: One afternoon the sky turned a strange yellow. The wind blew harder and harder until it became a hurricane and broke the anemometer at North Head. Some people said it broke at 165 mph. But it blew out the west window in the living room. Dad crawled home from the grocery store downtown. He immediately threw water on the fires. Then Joe Bendle came looking for his daughter, Norma, our playmate. He helped Dad put the piano bench up in the window and cover it with rugs to plug the hole.

Rooster Painting by Virginia Jones

Rooster Painting by Virginia Jones

Next day we assessed the damage. Our big old fir tree in the backyard was torn out of the ground, roots and all, and laid down to the north (the heavy winds and storms always came in off the ocean from the southwest.) A couple of houses came off their foundations and a fellow’s chickens blew from Ilwaco to Long Beach. No one reported personal injuries.

I think about what Virginia wrote every time I deal with our chickens on a windy day. I’m sorry I missed the storm’s anniversary on Thursday and thankful that, so far anyway, our winter weather is mild – although Kathleen Sayce warns us that we are likely to pay for it with a bumper mosquito crop this spring. On the whole, though, I think I’d rather deal with flying insects than hurtling poultry.


  1. Stephanie Frieze

    The last and, by these standards, little storm, with gusts of a sedate 90 mph, made our 1881 house sway. I remind myself that it has survived all of these storms and just enjoy the ride. I hate mosquitoes and would tolerate a few days of subfreezing weather better than being driven indoors on a summer’s eve.

  2. caroline miller

    An interesting bit of history with chickens and all. I’m afraid I wouldn’t have noticed the anniversary without your lovely sharing of a memoir. Been very busy seeing my play, “Woman on the Scarlet Beast” to its final days. So wish you could be her eto see it. Anyway, you know I have an excuse for not dropping by as often these days. Will remedy that later.


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