On August 29, strong winds swept through western Washington and Oregon. 

Actually, calling the winds associated with this particular storm “strong” does them a disservice. After all, a couple of days later, University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences Professor Cliff Mass said they were part of “the strongest summer windstorm in [Washington’s] historic record” on his popular blog. (He also said they were part of a “historic day during a historic summer.”)

After thoroughly researching the topic, Mass reported “there has never been a summer storm even close to this one for western Washington.” Later, he added that he could find “no comparable storm from May through September, in any year.”

Wow-Worthy Winds

What kind of mayhem is caused by such a once-in-a-lifetime weather event? A few examples, according to Mass and other sources:

  • The storm produced wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph near the Puget Sound
  • Gusts reached 60 to 70 mph in the northwestern part of Washington
  • Closer to the coast, gusts reached speeds as high as 90 mph

Many of these gusts broke records. For instance, winds on Destruction Island hit 87 mph at one point. That’s 20 mph faster than that location’s previous record for the May-to-September period.

North Seattle’s West Point, on the other hand, saw wind gusts of up to about 55 mph. The area’s previous record: 44 mph. Even Seattle-Tacoma International Airport experienced all-time record winds of 46 mph on the afternoon of Aug. 29.

Death and Destruction

Those historically strong winds caused all kinds of havoc in Washington and Oregon, such as the following:

  • Falling tree branches killed two people (one in Federal Way, Washington, and one in Gig Harbor)
  • Similar debris injured several others—including four who were participating in a triathlon when the storm hit
  • Strong winds toppled countless trees and power lines too
  • All of the above forced the closure of all or part of a number of the state’s roadways (Interstates 5 and 405 among them), bringing traffic to a standstill for long periods of time
  • It also caused nearly 500,000 residents to lose power

Emergency Response

According to various reports, this record-breaking storm overwhelmed 911 operators, police officers, and even the Coast Guard in the hours and days after the winds at its core died down.

The Coast Guard, for example, responded to multiple reports – in both Washington and Oregon -- of adrift vessels and people in the water.

Police officials and 911 operators, meanwhile, dealt with other sorts of emergencies because of the storm. A few cases in point: in Seattle, troopers answered a couple thousand 911 calls and investigated nearly 200 traffic collisions.

The Season’s The Reason

Strangely, experts suggest this windstorm would’ve been less damaging if it had happened in the fall rather than summer.

The reason for that: a months-long drought dried out both the region’s trees and soil. Hit with the kinds of historic winds that whipped through this past August, they gave way and produced the many forms of destruction described earlier.

Or, as Seattle City Light spokesman Roberto Bonaccorso put it while talking with The Seattle Times shortly after the storm, “When you have 60-mph wind hitting a power line [or a tree], it’s going to cause damage.”

Home Insurance Implications

Although it’s not yet known just how much damage this storm created or how much it’ll cost to repair it, there’s little doubt both figures will be pretty high when all is said and done.

Will they be as high as the “tens of millions of dollars” Mass predicted on his blog? Maybe, maybe not. Still, the clean-up effort’s unlikely to be cheap.

The silver lining for Washington and Oregon residents impacted by the storm is that standard homeowners insurance covers wind-related damage. (For more about these policies do and don’t protect against, read our article, “Homeowners Insurance Basics.”)

Flooding Not Covered

One aspect of many windstorms that run-of-the-mill home insurance doesn’t cover is flood damage. For that, you have to buy a separate policy. You can do that through the National Flood Insurance Program or from one of the NFIP’s private-insurer partners.

If you’d like to learn more about the ins and outs of this type of insurance, check out our “Flood Insurance Basics” article.