A look back at the area’s biggest February snowstorm

February 1983
Harrisonburg(Picasa | Ron Huffman)
Published: Feb. 10, 2023 at 2:12 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 10, 2023 at 2:13 PM EST
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(WHSV) - February has produced some big snowstorms in our area but the blizzard of February 1983 tops that list which occurred February 11-12th, 1983. The Staunton News Leader called it “one of biggest in history.”

This storm was pretty quick, the duration was about 22-24 hours.

According to the Staunton News Leader, “With the rapid accumulation, there was low visibility, high winds and drifting snow.” VDOT also said “highway crews fell behind during the worst of the storm on Friday due to equipment breakdowns and drifting snow.”

This blizzard is known as the Megapolitan Blizzard as this storm crippled the big cities of the I-95 corridor in the northeast such as Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston. This was a classic nor’easter setup.

High pressure was set up across eastern Canada, allowing cold air to spill into the eastern US. While that happened, a strong low-pressure system marched northward off the East Coast. This storm produced snowfall rates of 2-5 inches an hour with many even reporting thundersnow. It’s rated on the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale as a Category 4, which is “crippling.”

Snowfall map from our area's biggest February snowstorm.
Snowfall map from our area's biggest February snowstorm.(NWS)


With the wind, snow drifts were as high as 5′-6′. According to The Breeze from JMU, it was the first time classes were canceled since the March 1962 snow storm. Eastern Mennonite University was of course also closed. Several tractor-trailers jackknifed on I-81 due to the storm. Schools and businesses were closed. Because of the cold temperatures, the snow was more powdery and fluffy.

The days surrounding this snow storm were part of a big cold snap. The morning after the snowstorm ended, Dale Enterprise recorded a low of -6 degrees, which currently stands as a daily low record.

The Staunton Newsleader also reported, “Snowdrifts were so high on some roads that front-end loaders or V-plows were needed to clear the way.”


In our area, the storm produced over 30 inches of snow in some spots with widespread totals of 15-30 inches. Here are some of the snow totals from this storm:


The Timberville weather observer not only noted the 21″ of snow, but he also described it as a “big heap of snow” and drew a little doodle of what looks like a buffalo.

Some interesting notes from the Timberville weather observer Edwin Baker
Some interesting notes from the Timberville weather observer Edwin Baker(NWS)