PAT NEAL: ‘The Big Blowdown’

THERE’S A SAYING around here: If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. It will change, but you might not like it any better.

Every year, about this time, the weather can change, confusing some of the locals into thinking winter is over.

This is my story.

It started with a bright light in the eastern horizon that grew brighter until it was impossible to look at.

Oddly enough, the air started getting warmer as the brilliant orb gained altitude.

It was the sun.

It had been raining for so long, I forgot what the sun looked like.

Within hours, the temperature had climbed to a sweltering 50 degrees, causing some of us more sensitive types to declare winter was over.

It wasn’t, but creatures great and small showed themselves anyway.

Sighting the first baby slug of the year is not an experience that warms the cockles of a gardener’s heart, but there it was — about the size of a double-aught buckshot and just as cute.

Then there was a shrill buzzing sound in my ear, followed by a painful burning sensation that marked the appearance of the first mosquito of the new year.

The dramatic appearance of the first mosquito of the year has never been a cause for celebration.

Our mosquitoes seem to be getting larger.

The one I saw was big enough to be considered a small bird.

Then there came the sound of a rusty hinge that would not stop.

It was a tree frog making a racket in the brush.

One hoped it would eat the mosquito I missed.

Then, a lone red robin came bouncing along and I was suckered all the way into the sucker hole.

All of which causes the optimist to insist it’s time to plant the garden!

Then it was over.

The atmospheric river moved back in with the usual rain and wind, for which our region is famous.

Things could be worse.

This weekend saw the anniversary of the most famous storm to ever hit the Olympic Peninsula, the 1921 hurricane.

Known as “The Big Blowdown,” it hit Grays Harbor at noon on Jan. 29 with winds that increased to 150 miles per hour — until the weather station’s anemometer broke.

Moving north along our coast, the storm hit Forks at 6:30 p.m., knocking down 18 barns and several homes.

La Push lost 16 houses.

The storm continued north, killing hundreds of elk and knocking down an estimated 8 billion board-feet of timber before hitting the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where it blew the lighthouse keeper’s bull off Tatooche Island before moving on to hit Vancouver Island.

The effects were devasting, blocking roads and trails and knocking down the newly installed electric and telephone lines.

The effects were long term.

With the danger of all that downed wood going up in flames, the Forest Service built a system of fire lookouts across the Olympic Mountains, connected by trails, to spot fires and started gathering crews of firefighters and assembling caches of firefighting gear to put them out.

With the massive loss of timber, the rush to build railroads into the west end of the Olympic Peninsula cooled.

The fight to establish Olympic National Park heated up.

With the timber blown down, the loggers couldn’t log it, so they just figured it might as well be made into a park.

A hundred years later, the area of the Big Blowdown that wasn’t included in Olympic National Park has grown a crop of the best second-growth timber on the Peninsula that we are cutting now.

Life goes on.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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