It was January 20, 1993, the day of the inauguration of incoming president Bill Clinton, and I was watching the ceremony and events of the day on TV.
I lived in an apartment on the NE 77th Street side of the Wedgewood Estates complex. As the day went on, I could see outside that the branches of trees were waving wildly as the wind blew stronger and stronger. Suddenly with a bang, the wind caught the open window of my upstairs neighbors’ apartment. The window frame swung outward and back again against the building, shattering the glass. I went outside to look, and then I heard more cracking sounds coming from the corner of NE 77th Street and 37th Ave NE.
Stepping out to the sidewalk along NE 77th Street to see what was going on, I saw a falling-dominoes effect of trees, power poles and wires falling across NE 77th Street, one after another. I wasn’t sure which went first – did the trees fall first and then pull down the wires, causing the telephone poles to snap off?
Whichever it was, I saw that the disaster was progressing eastward along NE 77th Street towards me, so I decided to quickly get in my car and drive away from the area. In this way I would not only save my car from destruction but I would also be able to make it to my child’s school at pick-up time.
Snap, snap, snap, I heard as I drove eastward with poles breaking off and wires coming down. The big trees on the corner of the apartment complex at 37th Ave NE, were leaning, tipping…. I didn’t stay to watch them fall over.
By that evening, the power was out in our apartment complex and in surrounding blocks. It was very dark and very quiet. The trees which had fallen across NE 77th Street were still laying there, blocking the street, so when I came home I had to park my car a little ways away.
For the next three days, when we got up in the morning we went to McDonald’s for breakfast before school. After school we would go somewhere such as the library where we could keep warm for a couple of hours, then we would go and get something to eat before going home to our cold, dark apartment. We spent the evening by candlelight before finding our way to bed via flashlight.
In the gray light of the January days, the destruction on NE 77th Street on the north side of our apartment building was evident. All the power poles had snapped along NE 77th Street from 37th Ave NE over to 40th Ave NE. The big trees at the southeast corner of 77th & 37th fell straight across 77th, their tops just brushing the front door of the house at 7700 37th Ave NE. No buildings on our block were damaged in this Inaugural Day Storm but several parked cars had been crushed by trees or power poles.
New trees were planted at the southeast corner of 77th & 37th but these also fell in a wind storm a few years later. Now the corner site is treeless.
“Inaugural Day Storm Ravages Puget Sound on January 20, 1993.” HistoryLink Essay #2886, David Wilma, 12/12/2000. The winds reached 94 miles per hour, and only the Columbus Day Storm of 1962 was more violent than this.
Seattle Tree Inventory Map: Seattle Department of Transportation, Urban Forestry.
“The Day the Winds Roared,” Seattle Weather Blog, January 20, 2019.
Tree Link News: wind can actually help strengthen a tree.
Trees of Seattle, Arthur Lee Jacobson, 2006 edition. Seattle Public Library 582.16097. On page 294 the author cites Wedgwood’s scarlet oak tree on NE 77th at 38th Ave NE as one of the largest of its kind in Seattle, standing about 95 feet high. The scarlet oak was designated as a Heritage Tree in 2008. In 2016 the City of Seattle’s Urban Forestry workers did cabling and bracing work on the scarlet oak to help preserve it.
Wedgewood Estates apartment complex, pictured below: Completed in November 1948, this large block of apartments once had so many Navy families that people thought the Navy owned the building, but it was actually privately-owned. Wedgewood Estates was originally called Oneida Gardens. The name was changed in the 1980s when additional three-story buildings were added to the original brick fourplex groups. Wedgewood Estates is one of the few businesses in the neighborhood which uses the “extra E” in the spelling of the name. The complex was purchased by Seattle Housing Authority in 2001 and now offers some apartments at market rate and some at subsidized rates.