The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950

Over the Thanksgiving holiday in 1950, New England was hit by a monster that was part blizzard, part hurricane. The storm became known as “The Great Appalachian Storm” and “The Storm of the Century.” Some call it “The Great Appalachian Wind Storm.”

A woman digs out after the blizzard. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

A woman digs out after the blizzard. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Unlike most New England nor’easters, the winds came from the south, earning it another nickname: “The Great Sou’easter.” One of the oddest features of the storm, in fact,  was that it moved from east to west. More than 99 percent of cyclones move the other way — from west to east.

Great Appalachian Storm

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called the Appalachian storm one of the most ‘meteorologically unique’ storms ever because it produced both record high and record low temperatures. At 6:30 pm on November 25, snow battered Pittsburgh and temperatures fell to 9 degrees. But in Buffalo, 200 miles away, temperatures reached a balmy 54 degrees.

As a result, the Appalachian Storm was called ‘perhaps the greatest combination of extreme atmospheric elements ever seen in the eastern United States.’

The monster storm formed on November 24 as an extratropical cyclone in southeast North Carolina. It brought warm Atlantic air northwestward even as an Arctic front moved to the southeast through Ohio. The storm caused high winds, heavy rains and coastal flooding from Maine to Florida.

It stretched as far west as Ohio. Blizzards struck the western slopes of the Appalachians, dumping the most snow ever recorded on the mountainsides.

The storm blanketed Ohio – including Columbus, where Ohio State and the University of Michigan played their annual game despite the weather.

The 1950 Snow Bowl. Michigan won, 9-3.

The 1950 Snow Bowl. Michigan won, 9-3.

Howling Winds

In 1950, weather satellites had yet to come into use, and people had few weather reports. So much of what happened came as a surprise.

To the east, the Great Appalachian Storm produced gale force winds — at least 39 mph — for an extraordinary 12 hours. Boston had a sustained one-minute gust of 80 mph, and Concord, N.H., recorded a wind gust of 110 mph.

Hartford clocked a gust at 100 mph with sustained winds of 70 mph, the highest on record. And then on one amazing day, Hartford experienced winds of 38 mph for an entire day.

FM broadcasting station WMTW’s ice-covered Mount Washington transmitter site. It’s windy there, too.

As you might expect, the storm’s highest wind was observed at the home of the world’s worst weather —  Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Gusts reached 160 mph.

Along the coast, the violent winds produced the highest tides since 1821. In Bridgeport, the weather station was inundated with as much as 5 feet of water. Some places sustained more damage than they had in the hurricane of 1938.

On the Connecticut shoreline, the Appalachian Storm washed away houses, beaches, cottages and railroad tracks. People who refused to evacuate had to be rescued from their homes. Winds blew off roofs at the University of Connecticut.

The Damage Done

Winds blew so much beach sand onto the roads that plows had to remove it.

The storm hit 22 states, knocked out power to 1 million people, killed 353, injured 160 and caused $66.7 million in damages. U.S. insurance companies paid out more claims for the Appalachian Storm than any weather event to that date.

The National Centers for Environmental Information ranked the Great Appalachian Storm as the ninth worst in the Northeast out of 211 analyzed. Thirty inches of snow affecting 1.3 million people contributed to the storm’s ranking. In the Ohio Valley, it ranked as the all-time worst storm of 217 studied.

Cyclone researchers Paul Kocin and Louis Uccellini said the Appalachian Storm “is the bench mark against which all other major storms of the 20th century could be compared.”

This story about the Great Appalachian Storm was updated in 2021. If you enjoyed reading it, you may want to read about the snow hurricane of 1888 here.

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