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The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950 - LEX18.com | Continuous News and StormTracker Weather

The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950

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The weather has cooperated for almost the entire country this year as millions of travelers are hitting the roads and skies. We know some years we aren't so lucky. Thanksgiving travelers in 1950 would have encountered a doozy of a storm as they were heading back from grandma's house.

The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950 was one of the most intense storms of the 20th century. (This is one of the events that we study in meteorology school. And in fact, this was one of my favorite case studies from my forecasting classes.)  It brought record snowfall and low temperatures, widespread wind damage, and coastal flooding to the Midwest, Ohio Valley, Southeast, and Northeast from November 23-30th. All told 22 states were impacted and an estimated $700 million in damage was done. The central Appalachians were some of the "hardest hit" areas by this storm.

            

(Kocin and Uccellini, Snowstorms of the Northeast, Volume 2, AMS)

It all began as an arctic cold front dove south through the Midwest and Ohio Valley. The front tracked through Kentucky the night of November 23rd into the early morning of the 24th. Temperatures went from the 40s and 50s ahead of the front to the teens the following day. Lexington set a record low (3 degrees) following the cold front's passage on the 24th. Monthly record lows were observed on the morning of the 25th. Lexington dropped to -3 degrees, Louisville to -1, Somerset to -2, and Bowling Green to -7. The cold air swept as far south as Georgia and South Carolina, where there was considerable damage to crops.

(Richard Grumm, NWS)

There was also a thin but heavy band of snow that followed the front. Lexington would pick up an inch and a half. Snow would continue to pile up over the next several days. By the end of the weekend, ten inches of snow would be on the ground in Lexington. Some spots in southeastern Kentucky picked up over a foot of snow by the end of the Thanksgiving weekend. Nearly 50 inches of snow would fall across the Allegheny Plateau.

   

(National Weather Service Jackson, KY)

From a meteorological standpoint the storm got more interesting over the subsequent days. A low pressure center developed along the front as it stalled over the Carolinas on the 25th. This secondary low then took an unusual track to the northwest, or retrograded toward Ohio on the 26th. The storm "bombed out" and rapidly strengthened over West Virginia, western Pennsylvania, and Ohio. A swath of heavy snow set up on the southern and southwest side of the low. The storm eventually spun itself out over Lake Erie between the 27th and 28th before exiting Canada by the 30th.

     

(Modified after Kocin and Uccellini, Snowstorms of the Northeast, Volume 2, AMS)

The low's retrograde set up a wild temperature gradient. While Pittsburgh was in the single digits and picked up 30.5 inches of snow, two hundred miles away in Buffalo it was in the 40s with no snow. Given the low's "backward" movement, an "upside down" temperature pattern was revealed during the Great Appalachian Storm - cold temperatures were to the south and southwest, while it was warmer to the northeast.

  

(Kocin and Uccellini, Snowstorms of the Northeast, Volume 2, AMS)

The set-up of the Great Appalachian Storm and Hurricane Sandy draw a lot of parallels. Sandy also produced a somewhat inverted warm sector with over three feet of snow falling on the southern cold side of the storm.

Two of the top East Coast cyclone researchers of our day, Paul Kocin and Louis Uccellini, stated that this storm “represents perhaps the greatest combination of extreme atmospheric elements ever seen in the eastern United States. We feel that this storm is the bench mark against which all other major storms of the 20th century could be compared.”

- Meteorologist Jill Szwed

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