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"The Great Blowdown" strikes Washington coast on January 29, 1921.

HistoryLink.org Essay 5249 : Printer-Friendly Format

On January 29, 1921, a hurricane-force windstorm with gusts of more than 100 miles per hour strikes the Washington coast. Mill stacks are toppled along with power and telephone lines. Water surges over riverbanks and ships and barges break moorings. So much timber is destroyed -- billions of board feet -- that the storm is called "The Great Blowdown" (Van Syckle, 194). One man dies, in Aberdeen.

At about noon on January 29, the wind hit Grays Harbor and A. A. Brown, chief engineer for the Anderson & Middleton mill at Aberdeen was killed. By 2:00 p.m. the Olympic Peninsula felt the storm. "Great spruces, some eight feet through, top-heavy and shallow-rooted, were particularly vulnerable. Tremendous stands of hemlock were literally torn from the ground and tossed into impenetrable tangles (Van Syckle, 194-195). An entire herd of 200 elk were killed by falling timber. Hundreds of farm animals were lost and killed.

Destruction was heaviest in the west end of Clallam County where the highway between Crescent Lake and Forks was blocked by downed trees. At La Push, 16 Native American homes were destroyed.

The loss to the timber industry was catastrophic. Three-to-seven-billion board feet of old-growth timber was destroyed and left a huge fire hazard. The U.S. Forest Service, the State of Washington, and the Washington Forest Fire Association deployed additional fire suppression crews to protect the region. National Guard troops limited access into the affected areas. The U.S. Army responded with air patrols, but the appropriation for fuel ran out. The State and the Washington Forest Fire Association responded with $1,029.93 each to buy enough gasoline to keep the JN-4s from Camp Lewis flying.

Charles S. Cowan, The Enemy Is Fire!: The History of Forest Protection in the Big Timber Country (Seattle: Superior Publishing Co., 1960), 49; Edwin Van Syckle, They Tried To Cut It All: Grays Harbor -- Turbulent Years of Greed and Greatness (Seattle: Pacific Search Press, 1980), 192-195; "Hurricane at North Head Blows 100 Miles An Hour," The Seattle Daily Times, January 31, 1921, p. 9.
Note: This essay was corrected on October 14, 2005, and January 29, 2016.

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Special Suite: Washington Forests |

Related Topics: Calamities | Weather | Environment |

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Blowdown of timber after hurricane, January 21, 1921
Courtesy Washington Forest Protection Association

U.S. Army Air Corps plane and crew used to spot forest fires, 1921
Courtesy Cowan, The Enemy is Fire

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