Remembering the great 1981 windstorm

If you ask a meteorologist, chances are there was some weather event in their past that sparked their interest in the field.

For me, it was the great "Friday the 13th Windstorm" that struck 31 years ago today. Not only did the storm get me started in weather, it gave me great appreciation for what my Dad and others do as a Search and Rescue pilot in the Coast Guard.

On Nov. 13, 1981, the first of two great windstorms pummeled the Oregon Coast on its way to also causing havoc in Washington. Wind speeds were well over 100 mph along the Oregon coast.

My dad was a search and rescue pilot for the Coast Guard at the time, and we were stationed in North Bend, Oregon-- our house nestled amongst the trees on the outskirts of town near the shores of Coos Bay.

My parents had the night off and were out having dinner with friends near Bandon; my then 6-year-old sister and I, 8 years old, were at home with a babysitter. The storm developed so fast off the coast there was really no warning of how powerful it was about to come (Much research has been done into the explosive development of the storm.) Soon as late evening came, the winds came up out of nowhere -- gusting over 90 mph I'd later learn.

My parents tried to make their way home as soon as they could as the storm raged ashore, but trees were falling everywhere and the power was out. It took them quite a bit of time to make the 15 mile drive. Meanwhile, luckily my babysitter's mom came over to help keep everyone calm (and as incredible luck would have it, our home never lost power). My parents finally got home in the late night hours and the babysitter and her mother made it safely back to their nearby home.

That alone would be enough to spark an interest in how weather works. But come to find out the next morning the storm had claimed more than just several trees and power lines.

If you read the recap of the storm (listed at No. 5) you'll see a note there about a Coast Guard pilot losing his life. It turned out a fishing boat was caught in the storm and was in distress. The Coast Guard sent out a crew in 60 mph winds to try and rescue, but conditions continued to deteriorate and it became to dangerous to proceed. The crew attempted to make it back home, but the storm's force was too great and it knocked out the helicopter's engine, and it crashed and capsized into the dark ocean.

The three on board survived the crash, and the co-pilot and crewmember rode the surf to shore. But the pilot, Capt. Frank Olson, was knocked unconscious in the escape and drowned. "Olie" was a dear friend of our family, and I still vividly remember being awakened at 4 a.m. -- winds still howling -- to go stay with a neighbor so my parents could get into the station.

Since that day, weather has been a part of my life, but it also hit home just how dangerous my Dad's job was, and how these men risk their lives on a daily basis to help those in distress.

So again on this November 13, I say thanks to the men and women of the Coast Guard, and especially to the crew of Helo 1353.