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5 Weather Stories from 1962


As I noted on a previous Roadtrip-'62 ™ page, three Tiros weather satellites were launched by the United States in 1962. This gave a total of six in orbit and their benefits began to be felt this year. Information from the Tiros satellites was used to help land the Mercury space capsules. It was also used to analyze the origins and progress of hurricanes by sending data to hurricane warning centers in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Miami, Florida, and New Orleans, Louisiana. Data also allowed meteorologists, for the first time, to determine that the reason hurricanes dissipated upon landfall was because of their loss of the heat source of open water, not because of friction caused by structures and vegetation. This was the beginning of our current constant, 24-7 information from weather satellites that blanket the world.

Technicians mount a TIROS weather satellite
Technicians mount a TIROS weather satellite to the upper stage carrier (Public domain photo from NASA)

Out in the Pacific Ocean, nearly half the island of Guam was devastated by Typhoon Karen in November, 1962. Approximately 7,000 homes over 500 commercial buildings were destroyed, communications came to a halt, and the island's power and water systems shut down for several months before they could be repaired. It was the most powerful tropical cyclone to strike the island of Guam, with winds of 185 mph. But despite the extensive damage, only 11 people were killed. This was largely due to the fact that the island had three days notice of the storm’s approach. Buildings were boarded up, emergency supplies were distributed, and all personnel on the island were ordered to evacuate to typhoon-proof shelters. Some evacuated to Wake Island. Naval ships left port to rest far out to sea and Air Force planes stationed on the island were relocated.


Aftermath of Typhoon Karen in Guam, 1962

Great Britain experienced its third coldest winter ever beginning in December 1962, known as The Big Freeze. Going all the way back to 1659, only the winters of 1683–84 and 1739–40 are recorded as being colder! Over the winter of The Big Freeze, over 120,000 people died; something seldom seen in modern developed countries. Snows began on December 12-13 and on December 29-30 a blizzard covered southwest England and Wales with drifts up to 20 feet deep in places. And because the temperatures stayed so low, the snow cover lasted for more than two months in some areas. By January, 1963 it had been cold for so long that the sea froze for a mile off shore at Herne Bay, Kent. It also froze 4 miles out to sea from Dunkirk. And the upper reaches of the River Thames froze over thickly enough that someone drove a car across it at Oxford!

Storm flood, Hamburg, Germany, February 1962
Storm flood in Hamburg, Germany, February 1962 (Public Domain photo by Gerhard Pietsch.)

In February 1962, the North Sea flooded low coastal areas of Germany, destroying the homes of about 60,000 people and killing 315 people in the City of Hamburg alone. A windstorm with peak speeds of over 120 mph pushed water against the coast, leading to a water surge that dikes could not withstand. Sea dikes were breached in some 50 locations. The winds also pushed the water upstream on the rivers Elbe and Weser, which led to widespread flooding away from the coast. Hamburg, on the river Elbe, but 60 miles away from the coast, suffered the worst. Authorities requested help from any sources they could, including Germany’s NATO allies. The situation was so bad that Hamburg’s Police Senator even requested help from the German Army, ignoring the German constitution's prohibition on using the army for "internal affairs". This prompted adding a clause to the constitution which allowed using the army during disasters, though it was not added until 1968.

Storm track map of Typhoon Wanda, 1962
Storm track map of Typhoon Wanda at 6-hour intervals, 1962 (Public domain image by Supportstorm, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Another severe storm of 1962 was Tropical Storm Harriet, which hit Nakhon Si Thammarat Province of Thailand in October 1962. It wiped out entire villages, leaving over 10,000 people homeless and approximately 935 dead, according to the Thai Meteorological Department. Another storm of the same type and strength would hit the same area of Thailand in 2019. Elsewhere in Asia, Typhoon Wanda hit Hong Kong on September 1, killing 434 and leaving over 80,000 homeless. And in August 1962, the Dongchun River in Sunchon, South Korea burst a dike during a storm and the resulting wall of water killed 163 people.


One of the worst weather events in the United States was the Ash Wednesday Storm of March 7, 1962, which affected the coast from Florida to New England. Another was the Columbus Day Storm of October 12, 1962, which ravaged Oregon and Washington. You can read more about both events on our National Headlines from 1962 page. Hopefully, neither you nor Roadtrip-'62 ™ will encounter any of these disastrous weather events as we travel to our next destination.

Damaged new Buick in debris from Mineola, Texas tornado, 1962
Damaged new Buick in debris from Mineola, Texas tornado, 1962 (photo from an online auction)

All photos by the author and Copyright © 2020, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne, except as noted.

All other content Copyright © 2020, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne.

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