The Storm of October 1984

The Storm of October 1984

The article I posted earlier about the storm at Cape Scott brought to mind a story I had written for the old website. This story (below) brought to the attention of the government one of the important attributes of BC lighthouse keepers – they are on-site!


Helicopter pad at McInnes

On Thursday October 12, 1984 Roger Mogg (my assistant) and I were up at the helicopter pad at McInnes Island  lighthouse enjoying the clear Fall weather after lunch. We had been shooting clay pigeons with our shotguns and a newly acquired launcher. The wind was light, with very few clouds in the sky, so it made a perfect day for target practice in between weather reports. 

Just then Karen called up that Stan at Egg Island  had just notified the Coast Guard radio station in Bull Harbour  that he had unexpected high winds and seas. Roger and I looked at each other and joked that Stan must have been into his home-made wine again! Looking down towards Calvert Island  (between us and Egg Island) from our location on the helo (helicopter) pad we could see only clear sky with a trace of cirrus cloud. Calvert was over forty miles (64 kms) away and we could just see the top of it on the horizon. Egg Island was further south still. 

We were still shooting about a half hour later when we noticed the high cirrus clouds streaming across the sky. Looking down towards Calvert we could see the sky darkening, but the the sea was rippled and we still paid no attention. 

The seas picked up - photo Harvey Humchitt

Then the sh_t hit the fan as they say! The wind picked up so rapidly that we ran to the boatshed and left our shotguns and equipment inside. The wind rapidly climbed from 30 knots to 60 knots and higher (see the wind reading for that day on the top of the chart, photo below, left). The sea turned white with foam and spray and waves roared in from the southeast. We raced down for the houses, picking up things blowing around and headed for the engine room to also report this unexpected wind. By now the sky was grey, the ceiling was very low and the wind was howling in the guy wires of the radio beacon tower. 

Extreme Weather at McInnes

It seemed weird reporting this wind as no one else was on the air. Now I knew how Stan felt at Egg. At this time [1984] it was not a requirement to report anything unusual except at our weather reporting times and we still had an hour to go before that time. This was so dangerous that we had to pass it on. 

Within an hour, just as fast as it arrived, the winds dropped, the sky cleared and we were back in sunshine! Later we found out that it was part of a tropical storm1 called Ogden which had formed unexpectedly down off the western side of Vancouver Island, sped up the BC coast to just south of Prince Rupert  and then passed inland. 

Months later, when flying in the Coast Guard helicopter I was amazed to see the whole side of a one mountain with all the trees laid flat like from an explosion. The pilot mentioned that it was a leftover from that tropical storm. It was amazing – every tree had been flattened on one side of the mountain and the other side was perfectly fine. We also learned that several mobile homes had been rolled in Bella Bella  and several fishboats had been overturned and a few lives lost. 

After the enquiry, the government decided that the lighthouses could now officially report unusual weather to the nearest Coast Guard station in a special weather format.


1Tropical storm – A cyclone from the Tropics in which the maximum sustained surface wind speed (using a one minute average) ranges from 34 kt – 63 kt (39 mph – 73 mph) or (63 km/h – 118 km/h). See the Beaufort Wind Force Scale to see what effects this has on the sea condition.

<private>First rise after blow, foretells a stronger blow</private>


Harvey Humchitt (now princial keeper on Cape Scott lighthouse ) was a teenager in Bella Bella  that day and sent me this report of the storm as it hit the town:

I remember that storm. I was 14 or 15 then. We had just finished painting our kitchen. It was the end of summer. Dad wanted to do some renovations on the kitchen but waited until summer to do it. He built shelves and stuff and then we painted it. I also remember looking up at the clouds and seeing them flying by faster than I had ever seen and brought it to my Dad’s attention. He saw the clouds and seeing them began gathering us together to head to our grans. He wanted to make sure everything was okay with the boat. 

My grandfather and great uncle Jasper were in their boat just outside McCloughlin Bay (where the ferry docks now) when everyone heard them talk about smoke on the water in Lama Pass. By the time they got in front of the village it was too late. The winds hit and caused a lot of chaos. My grandfather couldn’t turn into Martins Landing as the waves and winds were too high. He went into a bay called Gaff Hook bay.  

The waves were at least 8 to 9 feet. There was quite a swell. I remember running to my grans with my dad carrying me becasue the wind was blowing us all over and I couldn’t get any footing. One of the government docks broke loose and lots of boats got damaged. 

The principal of the High School was on his boat in Deer Pass for crab. He tried to keep his boat from getting crushed on the rocks and instead crushed his leg. For Halloween he used his leg as part of his costume. As well, some construction crew had just finished the new roof on the Heiltsuk Hotel (they too were taking advantage of the warm weather) and had just packed up and left the site after completeing the roof. When the wind hit it tore all the work they did right off as if it were glued on with white glue. 

Over in Shearwater one of the waitresses that was a family friend died in her trailer. It rolled over at least 15 to 20 times. This was told by some people who were in the trailer park. It was a terrible wind. Every one else who remembers that day calls it the October Storm of ’84. It was in the afternoon sometime, around mid-afternoon. 

(Harvey has two nice Picasa Web Photo Albums on Langara Point and Cape Scott lighthouses.)

<private>Typhoon Ogden

Typhoon (JMA)
Category 1 typhoon (SSHS)
Duration October 7 – October 10
Intensity 120 km/h (75 mph) (10-min),  980 mbar (hPa)

A weak surface low formed west of Truk on October 3, which contained little thunderstorm activity. Moving northwest, it joined the eastern section of the monsoon trough. Following the flow around the east side of the trough towards the north, poorly organized convection became associated with the persistent low. Once it neared the northeast fringe of the trough, convective organization improved. Although still a very broad system, it became a tropical depression on the morning of October 7. Moving around the southwest part of a retreating subtropical ridge, Ogden sharply recurved. By early October 8, it strengthened into a tropical storm and passed just east of Marcus Island. The cyclone attained typhoon intensity partially due to translational motion as it began to undergo extratropical transition on October 9. Southwest shear began to significantly impact the system thereafter, which weakened the system into a tropical storm on October 10. By noon, the system had fully evolved into anextratropical cyclone. The nontropical storm continued northeast towards the International Dateline.[22] – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1984_Pacific_typhoon_season#Typhoon_Ogden</private>

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Retired (2001) British Columbia lighthouse keeper after 32 years on the lights.

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