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March 4, 2009

Photo gallery recalls "Ash Wednesday Storm"

Sun Photo/Clarence B. Garrett 

Nor'easters can do far more damage than merely burying Maryland in snow. On a Tuesday and Wednesday, March 6-7, 1962, one of the most intense coastal storms ever to strike Maryland - summer or winter - pounded the region with snow, wind and punishing surf. Ocean City suffered extensive damage and severe flooding as the ocean washed across the island.

Quickly dubbed "The Ash Wednesday Storm," the tempest was ranked as more violent than the 1933 hurricane that carved out the Inlet. Hotels and homes were demolished or floated away. Fires broke out. Private boat owners were asked to help evacuate 1,500 stranded residents.

That pile of rubble above is identified as the remains of the luxury Coronado apartment house at 47th Street. It collapsed in the third high tide, and most washed away in the fourth.

Chincoteague, to the south, was under six feet of water. Fenwick Island in Delaware, and Dewey Beach, too, were ravaged. Ocean City averaged 3 feet of water in the streets as two days of successive high tides under a new moon inundated the place. The boardwalk was torn from its pilings.

A Sun reporter told of OC resident Louise Garland, who was seated happily in front of her TV, munching cheese and crackers, when "a huge uprooted piling the size of a battering ram smashed open the front door and rode into the house on the crest of a wave that engulfed woman, TV set, stove and all the furniture." She would spend the night holding back the elements, wrapped in her drapes for warmth, until a boat took her out in the morning.

Sun librarian Paul McCardell has assembled a sobering photo gallery of the storm from The Sun's archives. It is a reminder to those who can recall those days - and perhaps a revelation to the many younger Marylanders who cannot - that the ocean can still rise up and squash what we build there. And it doesn't require a hurricane. 

Here's how the National Weather Service describes the storm. If you remember it, please share your memories in a comment.

March 5-9, 1962: The "Ash Wednesday Storm" was perhaps the most intense nor'easter of 20th century. It caused over 200 million dollars in property damage (1962 dollars) and major coastal erosion from North Carolina to Long Island, NY. The Red Cross estimated that 40 people died in the storm. In New Jersey alone, the storm severely damaged or destroyed 45,000 homes.

It hit during "Spring Tide" (sun and moon phase to produce a higher than normal tide). Water reached nine feet at Norfolk (flooding begins around five feet). Houses were toppled into the ocean and boardwalks were broken and twisted. The islands of Chincoteague and Assateague were completely underwater.

Ocean City, Maryland sustained major damage especially to the south end of the island. Winds up to 70 mph built 40-foot waves at sea. Heavy snow fell in the mountains to the west.

Big Meadows, southeast of Luray, recorded Virginia's greatest 24-hour snowfall with 33 inches and the greatest single storm snowfall with 42 inches. Frostburg, Maryland had 21 inches in 24 hours and Cumberland had over 17 inches. Baltimore had 13 inches of snow. Roads were blocked and electrical service was out for several days in some areas. Areas to the east of the bay fell into the mixed precipitation zone.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:37 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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