Sports and weather together: Seattle’s Columbus Day storms

On this date five and 47 years ago, massive fronts took the region by force.
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A possible constituency with influence: Seattle Storm fans. (WNBA)

On this date five and 47 years ago, massive fronts took the region by force.

October 12 has been a hallowed date for Pacific Northwest weather fans since 1962, when the infamous Columbus Day Storm blew through Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia leaving death and destruction in its path.

The storm — nicknamed The Big Blow — blew in on a Friday afternoon, doing its most severe damage in the Portland area (including knocking down the KGW-TV tower). But the Columbus Day Storm brought a fair share of mayhem into the Evergreen State as well, where winds toppled trees and knocked out electricity and phone service to much of Western Washington for several days. At my family'€™s home in the Seattle suburbs, my father stoked the living-room fireplace for warmth and my mother cooked on our Coleman stove.

Winds were clocked at unbelievably high speeds — including 145 mph at Oregon's Cape Blanco, where gusts destroyed the anemometer (those little cups that spin around on the roof of the weather station).

The Columbus Day Storm has been fodder for meteorology students for decades, and remains notorious for its high winds and for the barometric pressure, which was one of the lowest readings recorded anywhere. It's the closest we've ever come to experiencing a hurricane in the Pacific Northwest.

But Oct. 12 isn'€™t just a day for the meteorologically inclined to look back, at least not since another storm made its mark on the city on the exact same date five years ago. It was Oct. 12, 2004, when the Seattle Storm women's basketball team won the WNBA championship, beating the Connecticut Sun 74-60 at a sold-out Key Arena in the deciding match of a three-game series.

It was the first major championship for a Seattle professional team since the 1979 Sonics won the NBA title, and an exciting moment in local history, especially for local WNBA fans.

With the fifth anniversary of the championship upon us, I've been thinking about where exactly the Seattle Storm fits into the city's sports and cultural landscape. It strikes me that the team has not been as universally embraced as the more traditional€ Seattle teams, mainly the football Seahawks and baseball Mariners. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck hurts his ribs and its front page news. Meanwhile, the Mariners are still lauded for, ultimately, losing in the playoffs 14 years ago (including by this reporter in a piece for Crosscut two weeks ago).

Five years seems like great opportunity to gauge, anecdotally at least, the city'€™s love for and level of bonding with the team. When asked about what public plans the team has made to celebrate — rally at Westlake with 2004 players? party at a sports bar? big-screen video of the game somewhere? — Seattle Storm CEO Karen Bryant said festivities would be limited to the Internet, where the team would offer audio from the final five minutes of the championship game. October 12, 2004, is a very special date for our organization and it evokes wonderful memories and emotions every year, Bryant said. Though, she continued, it's difficult to properly commemorate our championship anniversary with our fans and the community without players and coaches here in the off-season. Okay. I'€™d call that pretty low-key.

When asked about the more prickly issue of where the Storm ranks in the consciousness of the local fans, Bryant demurred, but acknowledged declines in ticket sales this past season, which was the team's 10th anniversary in the league. We are proud of our accomplishments as a franchise and continue to stay focused on building an even better future for women's professional basketball in the Pacific Northwest,€ Bryant said. While ticket sales were off 5 percent over last year, Bryant said that Storm attendance has grown 39 percent since 2001. We are optimistic we will experience further growth next season.

Regardless of how much official celebrating does or doesn'€™t take place today, the Seattle Storm did snatch victory from the jaws of defeat when the team was saved by a local ownership group. If that group hadn't emerged and purchased the team from Howard Schulz in 2008 (perhaps you heard about the other team that Mr. Schulz sold?), the WNBA would likely have left Seattle. And that probably says more about how much love there is for the Seattle Storm than any rally at Westlake would.

Unfortunately, there'€™s nothing like an anemometer to measure that kind of thing.


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