The biggest local snowstorm, Ash Wednesday 1962

The biggest snowstorm in our local area, happened in March, 1962
The 1962 snowstorm is the biggest snowstorm in our local history
Published: Mar. 7, 2022 at 6:25 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 3, 2023 at 12:10 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -The Shenandoah Valley has certainly seen its share of snowstorms. The worst storm on record, though, is the Ash Wednesday storm of 1962. This storm was a slow-moving, powerful Nor’easter.

*Check out the photo gallery at the bottom of this article for photos of the snow that have been sent into WHSV*

It started snowing on Monday, March 5th, and didn’t stop until Wednesday, March 7th. Roads completely shut down, and thousands of people were stranded.

Julia Ritchie recalls, “I remember this very well. Helicopters were brought in to take food to county residents who were snowed in. They landed at the then Anthony Seeger Campus School to load food.”

The winter of 1961-1962 started rather uneventful. Several smaller storms but everything changed once March came. This was a slow moving, very powerful Nor’easter. The reason it was so slow, there was a blocking high to the north. That high pressure prevented the storm from moving north quickly. The other key as to why this was such a hefty snow storm was storm track. Our area was pretty much in the sweet spot for the heaviest snowfall, to the northwest of the track of the low pressure.

Ash Wednesday Snowstorm
Ash Wednesday Snowstorm(NOAA)

Because this was a strong Nor’easter, winds wre very powerful across the East Coast. Wind gusts were as high as 50-80mph with this storm. That’s hurricane force winds along the Mid-Atlantic Coast. This also led to major coastal flooding and erosion and powerful waves along the East Coast. Damage with this entire storm was estimated to be $200 million.

The snow fell as far south as northern Alabama and Georgia, but the cold extended down to Florida with temperatures below freezing.

Across the Shenandoah Valley and the Potomac Highlands, heavy snow stranded travelers in their car. If you were at home, you were completely snowed in. Kitty Craig remembers how deep the snow was, “I was in the 8th grade. I remember it. Snow drifts were over top fences. Roads closed. They had to fly and drop food to people. It was a bad one.”

Roads completely shut down, and thousands of people were stranded, although some kids saw the heavy snow as an adventure. “The snows in our backyard was so deep we dug tunnels an built some awesome snow forts”, recalls Beth Holt.

Dale Enterprise, the weather station just outside of Harrisonburg, set a new record of 27″ of snow for a single day but over 3 days, the final total was 35″.

Big Meadows in the National Park set two state records. Thirty three inches of snow in 24 hours, and the greatest storm snowfall, at 42″ .That single storm total record was broken in the blizzard of 1996, and the new record is 48″.

Ruth Stultz recalls the snow, “I remember that. Route 11 was closed. You could walk across a fence.”

While big March snow storms don’t happen every year, they can happen. The last ‘big’ March storm with more than 5″ across most areas, March 20-21, 2018.

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