Remembering Freda: The typhoon that knocked our lights out


When typhoon hit B.C. hard in 1962, there was an almost instant power failure

The storm wasn't expected to be so powerful. But when the "Big Blow" hit B.C. on October 12, 1962 it packed quite a punch.

Seven people died, nearly $600 million in damages were caused (in today's dollars), and residents from Vancouver to Hope were without power, some for up to a week.

It all started with a typhoon.

Freda was born of a tropical depression in the Pacific that began south of Hawaii on October 3. It weakened as it approached the west coast, though, and Freda was downgraded to a tropical storm.

What meteorologists hadn't predicted was that Freda's remnants would combine with another low pressure system. The effect was, in some respects, worse than a typhoon.

Known to some as the Storm of the Century — residents of Oregon and Washington State refer to it as the Columbus Day Storm — winds were stronger than those of the so-called Perfect Storm that hit the east coast of North America in 1991.

It was the strongest storm ever recorded to hit the Pacific Northwest.

How will BC Hydro prepare for the next one

Thankfully, powerful storms like the one caused by Freda aren't commonplace. But winds with much less force can still result in power outages in BC Hydro's system.

BC Hydro's websiteboasts an excellent outage reporting system, including an option to get outage updates on your mobile phone. But the next big upgrade in outage reporting and restoration will be smart meters, which will provide real-time outage notification provided automatically.

Smart meters will pinpoint problems quickly and specifically, accelerating the restoration process.

Until all 1.8 million smart meters are installed across the province, customers will need to continue to notify BC Hydro when the power is out. You can report an outage by calling 1 888 POWERON (1 888 769 3766).

Freda's destructive path

The fierce wind blew through Vancouver at 90 km per hour, gusting up to 145 km per hour. Trees all over the region "snapped like twigs" and "fell like matchsticks". Stanley Park lost 20 percent of its old growth, some 3,000 trees, including 500-year-old-cedars.

Glass everywhere shattered, either from flying debris or the force of the wind. Some who were young at the time recall being told to stay away from windows.

Port Moody resident Al Sholund wrote in 2003 that "with a great number of trees falling all over the Lower Mainland, there was an almost instant power failure."

Families hunkered down around fireplaces and in rooms without windows.

Bill Tivy was a BC Hydro superintendent at the time. In the book Gaslights to Gigawatts, he recollected that the distribution system was heavily damaged, but that "everyone worked hard on restoration".

The windstorm followed on the heels of another squall that had moved through the area less than a day before. Many of BC Hydro's line workers had already put in long hours but were called back into service anyway.

Vancouver crews were supported by workers and equipment from across B.C., including Vanderhoof, Chetwynd, Vernon, Port Alberni and others. Altogether, 580 linemen and 100 trucks were called into service.