Remembering Southeast’s 1984 Thanksgiving Day storm


Southeast residents who have been living through the rainfall and mudslide deluge of this past weekend may remember the historic Thanksgiving Day storm of Nov. 22, 1984. That was when one of the highest tides of the year coincided with a massive low pressure system that arrived from Sakalin Island area in Eastern Siberia. The storm ended up causing millions of dollars in damage and at least some homeowners found their houses washed into the ocean.

The tide was expected to reach 20.3 feet in Juneau, but the surging waves from the wind added another 2-3 feet of water along the shore. Waves in Lynn Canal were up to 10 feet high. In downtown Juneau, the Federal Building logged gusts at 90 miles per hour, and in Gastineau Channel, the winds exceeded 100 miles per hour. Parts of Marine Park’s underpinnings were washed out in downtown Juneau and mudslides blocked Thane Road.

The wind flipped smaller aircraft at the airport, and boats sank on their moors in the harbors. Dozens of homes were without power as trees toppled over power lines, and waves crashed over Egan Drive.

Taking the brunt of it, however, was Tenakee Springs. About 20 homes were destroyed during that storm, and property damage was in the tens of thousands in Gustavus, the homesteading gateway to Glacier Bay National Park.

Whether it had anything to do with a total solar eclipse that occurred the same day is not known, but the eclipse’s total darkness was seen in the Southern Pacific Ocean, Indonesia, and  Papua New Guinea.

A Thanksgiving Day storm of epic proportions also struck Florida the same day that year, grounding a freighter and causing significant coastal erosion on Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

Years earlier, it was Nov. 28, 1968, when a southerly gale struck Ketchikan on Thanksgiving Day, and although it was a usual fall storm with hurricane force winds, this one did significant damage to the First City homes and infrastructure, and delayed a number of Thanksgiving Day meals. There was nothing unusual about the position of the moon or sun on that day.

[Read about the Ketchikan Thanksgiving Day Storm of 1968 at]

Do you have memories of the 1984 Thanksgiving Day Storm or the 1968 Thanksgiving Day Storm? Share them in the comment section.


  1. Oh ya. I remember. I had just moved to Juneau summer 1984 and it was my first fall/winter there. Epic!

    • MA- That was the Thanksgiving where I learned to make raw cranberry relish rather than sauce, since the power was out. But we did manage to cook the bird in a wood-fired oven. Epic is right. -sd

  2. That was a little bit before my time in Alaska since we got up there about 10 years later. I was on St Lawrence island in the native village of Gamble during the Arctic hurricane that hit 8 or 9 years ago with winds gusting past 90 mph and monster 25-ft waves breaking on the gravel Beach. They evacuated everybody to the school and also evacuated their heavy equipment to high ground because the waves were supposed to undermine the runway that had been there since world war II. None of that happened although all through the night people were showing up at the school after a window or two would blow in. I was out earlier in the day putting plywood over the windows in the old school/teacher housing and after the storm had blown through I went out to inspect damage and all my plywood was gone but the windows were intact. The huge waves had turned up all the gravel on the beach and had pulverized the shells off of giant clams that live there and the waves were washing in fresh clam meat and people were lined up shoulder to shoulder for a half a mile getting their clam meat for chowder. It was something to see, and living in gamble was one of the highlights of my life. Seeing walrus and whale and polar bear harvested for food gave me a new perspective on what life has been like there for thousands of years.

    • Thanksgiving day 1984 started out with little wind and a light drizzle, my friend Tom Williams and I went for a quick Duck shoot at first light on the Mendenhall flats. As we were returning from our hunt the wind picked up from seemingly out of nowhere. We watched a C-206 attempt to land on Runway 8 but the winds were such that it was almost going backwards! I too cooked my turkey on my wood stove. Wasn’t pretty but tasted fine!

  3. That was my first year in Juneau. I was no stranger to windstorms having lived in East Anchorage for most of the preceding decade, but waves crashing into the Fred Meyer and Plywood Palace parking lots was a new thing. My most vivid memory is of the hole in the plexiglass window of my camper shell made by a cedar shingle that blew off somebody’s roof and the wind was strong enough to drive that shingle through an eighth inch of plexiglass. We were living in a total electric apartment with no wood stove, so no turkey that Thanksgiving.

  4. I was on a deer hunting trip with two friends that day. We rounded Pt. Retreat and it hit full on in a heart-beat. We were in a 28 ft Tolly. We couldn’t turn around for fear of capsizing. We had to tie the skipper to his helm seat to keep him at the wheel. We spent the next 6 hours riding 28 foot waves in 76 mile an hour wind. We had to power up each wave and hope the windshield held as we hit the trough of each wave and it crashed over us. The Alaska Ferry Taku gave us an update on wind and sea state. We made it into Funter Bay by the skin of our teeth. Drank all the whiskey that night. Got our deer the next day. Such is life on the edge.

  5. Unfortunately I was outside of Alaska looking for work ….that was the very beginning of our economic “depression” that stopped practically all construction in Anchorage.

  6. Vivid memories of that storm. My house on North Douglas highway (across from the old Channel Marina and float plane base) was O.K.. Wind downed trees missed it. But, my next door neighbor had a beautiful log float house tucked up to the narrow beach that was in trouble. We couldn’t hand winch it in any closer onto the beach and settled for several heavy anchor lines to the base of the biggest trees. It was all we could do beaten by the wind, so took a beer break in the small kitchen to watch the waves. When green water from the breaking waves reached up on the picture windows we had to evacuate. Yes, the float house survived the storm with only major damage to the large plastic/foam floats under it. A close call…

  7. There was a Columbus Day storm in the early 1970s that hit southern SE particularly hard, causing more timber blow-down than I had ever seen before or have seen since. This rain is continuing such that a wind event now would cause significant blowdown, especially in the over-mature old growth. Also, we could easily see a mudslide in downtown Juneau at any time as those seem to happen every two to three decades. This time around I have no doubt that all these events will be tied to climate change whereas that earlier Columbus Day storm was blamed on all the marijuana smoking. In any event it couldn’t happen now because we no longer acknowledge Columbus Day.

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