A rare April Blizzard and an earthquake all on the same day

All on the same day, a rare April blizzard and an earthquake centered in Page County.
Published: Apr. 10, 2023 at 4:40 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -More than 100 years ago, on April 9, 1918, two significant weather events happened in the Shenandoah Valley.

The first was a blizzard, which started in the morning and then, about 9 p.m., an earthquake!

According to weather records, snow started falling in the early morning hours of April 9th, with most of the snow melting as it fell during the day. The snow accumulated, though, overnight. All photos in this story were provided by the Shenandoah County library.

Shenandoah County
Shenandoah County(Shenandoah County Library)

The strong winds led to drifting. Temperatures were in the 30s.

Heavy snow led to downed telephone and electric lines, roads were covered, and the big concern was the fruit crop as the fruit trees were in bloom. There were also some damage reports of the heavy snow collapsing into some skylights in Harrisonburg.

Snowfall ranged from a measly two inches in Charlottesville, 16″ in Dale Enterprise, and Moorefield picked up almost three feet of snow over 4 days.

As unusual as heavy snow in April is, can you image the reaction when at 9 at night, the earth shook during the April blizzard?

That’s right: an earthquake, which was centered in Page County. It was felt all over the Valley.

The weather observer in Winchester wrote, “Trembling with a rumbling noise that lasted thirty seconds. No damage.”

There was some damage reported, mainly in Page County close to the epicenter. Minor damage included some windows broken, plaster cracked in walls and ceilings. A new spring also formed in Page County, in the Hamburg area, right in the middle of a road.

Page Courier article on the earthquake and aftershocks. clipping via the Page County Library
Page Courier article on the earthquake and aftershocks. clipping via the Page County Library(Page Courier, Page County Library)

Dr. Eric Pyle, a Geology Professor with JMU, explains how we actually have good, historical information on this event.

Pyle says, “What’s unique about it, is they had just installed a seismograph at Georgetown University, which picked it up. So everyone’s on heightened alert with the weather and this happens. There are all sorts of faults that are leftovers from when the Appalachian Mountains were formed. We don’t know quite why they continue to be active, but it’s just a build-up of stress.”

Going back in history, seismologists have estimated the magnitude at a 4.9. If you want to roughly compare the Mineral earthquake many of us remember from 2011, that Mineral quake was about 22 times stronger than the 1918 earthquake.

From Dale Enterprise, right outside Harrisonburg
From Dale Enterprise, right outside Harrisonburg(NWS)