The history of Puget Sound storms

Snow can cause havoc on local roads including Bothell Highway.   - Reporter file photo
Snow can cause havoc on local roads including Bothell Highway.
— image credit: Reporter file photo

Puget Sound residents were shocked to see a 70-degree November day at the beginning of the month.

It was not a good sign.

This is a La Niña year and the past four times the Puget Sound area has had those two things converge the winter was treacherous.

La Niña is associated with cooler than normal water temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean, which means a colder and wetter winter for the Pacific Northwest.

Probably no one is old enough to remember the last time the Puget Sound area got four feet of snow. It happened in 1880 during the "Great Gale." The storm is the furthest back the Reporter staff could find using newspaper reports, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) database and other various sources.

This year's weather could be added to this list thanks to La Nina predictions. Here are just some of the biggest weather-related events of the past 100 years in Western Washington.

• 1910 - Wellington Avalanche of 1910 claimed the most weather-related deaths in the history of Washington State with 96 fatalities. The small town on Stevens Pass Highway was devastated by the event that dropped 11 inches of snow in 24 hours.

• 1916 - Hands down the biggest storm of the 1900s occurred from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 as 33 inches of snow fell in downtown Seattle paralyzing the Puget Sound area. The storm holds the record for the most snow falling in a 24-hour period on Feb. 1, according to official records that were not kept in 1880. The 21.5 inches that fell that day was also enough snow to cause the roof of the St. James Cathedral in Seattle to collapse.

• 1934 - "The Gale of '34" as it was known was the second deadliest wind storm in Western Washington history. The Oct. 21 event claimed 18 lives and a high gust was recorded in Tacoma at 83 mph.

• 1950 - One of the only storms to reach the threshold of being an actual blizzard with sustained wind gusts of 40 mph began on Jan. 13. It was credited with causing more than $1 million worth of damage and 13 fatalities as some areas of the Puget Sound recorded 70 mph winds. High winds resulted in 6-foot snow drifts in some parts of the Puget Sound. The storm came close to tying the 1916 record for snow fall in a 24 hour time period with 21.4 inches at Sea-Tac. But that January holds the record for snow fall in one month at 57.2 inches, coldest average temperature for a month at 24.9 degrees and set the record for coldest temperature at zero degrees on Jan. 31. That same year was La Niña and saw a record 70-degree day in November.

• 1962 - Columbus Day storm: The deadliest wind storm in the Puget Sound region's history reached the threshold of being called an "extratropical cyclone" as it claimed 46 lives, with hundreds of people injured. The storm caused $230 million worth of insured damage to property.

• 1968-69 - The "Snowiest Winter" in the greater Seattle area occurred from November 1968 to March 1969 as a total of 67.5 inches fell in the region. One storm in 1968 dropped 13 inches of snow at Sea-Tac. That was a La Niña year and the last time Western Washington saw a 70 degree day in November.

• 1985 - The year was known for the coldest November on record at Sea-Tac. On Nov. 21 and 27, storms dumped a total of 17.5 inches of snow on Seattle. Average snowfall in November is just over an inch.

• 1990 - Statewide flooding hit in November 1990 causing two deaths and an estimated $250 million worth of insurable damage. But the storm gained the most notoriety for sinking the I-90 floating bridge span between Mercer Island and Seattle that was under construction. Most of the rivers to spill over banks occurred in Western Washington but there were also a few in Eastern Washington as well. The storm set records for flood levels of many northwest Washington rivers including the Elwha, Cedar, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, Snohomish and Stillaguamish. On Dec. 18 just under a foot of snow fell wreaking havoc on local school systems and roads.

• 1991 - The most blustery Thanksgiving of the century took place on Nov. 22, 1991. More than just the family dinner was affected by this storm that produced 60 mph winds, felled trees and killed three people. The winds also cut power to over 40,000 households in Western Washington.

• 1993 - Named for former President Bill Clinton's move into the White House, the Inauguration Day storm took place on Jan. 20. One of the worst weather events of last century in the Puget Sound area killed six people, cut power to more than 700,000 customers and did more than $130 million worth of insurable damage. Five of the six deaths were caused by falling trees. News reports had 60-70 mph winds ripping roofs off of houses, blowing out windows and felled trees crushing buildings. Gusts on the campus of the University of Washington were measured at 88 mph and 96 at Hood Canal. About 170 houses were destroyed and 800 more were damaged according to officials.

• 1995 - The Evergreen Point and Hood Canal floating bridges were closed on Dec. 12, 1995 for a wind storm that produced 90 mph wind gusts in the Puget Sound area. The storm cut power to more 400,000 households and businesses.

• 1996 - Returning unwanted or duplicate gifts from Christmas 1996 was made more difficult by this snow storm that battered the area on December 26. The storm lasted an entire week and dumped a foot of snow. The biggest snow fall in six years produced only three inches in Sea-Tac by 15 inches in other areas including Bothell and Lynwood. In February of the same year heavy rains produced widespread flooding in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Damage from the flooding was estimated to be $800 million across the three states with three deaths in Western Washington. The rains also produced record levels for flooding for the time on the Chehalis, Skookumchuck and Nisqually rivers.

• 1997 - In a rare display of Mother Nature's furry, six tornados touchdown in Washington on May 31. The previous record four tornados in one year came in 1989 but 14 were reported during 1997 in Washington State. The crazy weather was not confined to wind as massive thunderstorms blanketed the region, producing hail up to three inches in diameter. Heavy rain, flash floods and near 80 mph winds battered Western Washington but no deaths were reported.

• 1998 - More than 235,000 residents lost power on Nov. 23 with winds hitting 60 mph in the Puget Sound Area. One woman was killed by a downed power line.

• 2006 - The Hanukkah Eve Wind Storm on Dec. 14-16 produced hurricane force winds on the coast (145 mph). Winds in the Puget Sound area topped out at 80 mph. The storm followed heavy rains that left a record 16 inches in one month, loosening tree roots and resulting in $170 million in insured damage to property from the high winds. The largest power outage in state history saw 1.2 million residents in the dark. But the storm was also one of the most deadly in state history with 18 deaths credited to carbon-monoxide poisoning, including the first in Kirkland. Victims, most of whom could not read English or the warning labels, would bring outdoor grills inside to try and stay warm. The epidemic caused one local newspaper to print carbon-monoxide poisoning warnings on its front page in many different languages.

• 2008 - One of the craziest years for weather in state history saw snow fall in April. The seventh day of the calendar year produced 12 inches of snow in some areas of the Puget Sound. One week later 55 mph winds were recorded, along with three inches of snow in Bellevue. On Feb. 6 high winds were recorded at Sea-Tac (56 mph). In April, with temperatures in the 20s and 30s across Western Washington, some Eastside areas saw up to seven inches of snow. On June 9 the region saw a rare summer wind storm with gusts topping out at 60 mph on the Eastside. The storm cut power to over 30,000 residents in Western Washington. The crazy weather extended into the next fall as 2.78 inches of rain fell in one 24-hour period. The region had received just 2.17 inches during the entire month of October. The snow fall returned on Dec. 17 with Seattle and Bellevue receiving three inches. Low temperatures kept the snow around through Christmas with Redmond accumulating the most snow with 16 inches.

• 2009 - The January floods in Southwest Washington shutdown major roads between Washington State and Oregon. The flooding was estimated to cost $125 million in insurable damage.

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