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68 Years Ago: The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950

Posted at 6:16 PM, Nov 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-26 23:30:24-05

68 years ago, a massive winter storm set up shop over the east coast during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Heavy snow showers and strong wind gusts were recorded from the Carolinas, to the New England States, and even here in Kentucky. The aftermath of the storm showed snow amounts in the Central Appalachians up to 62.” Extensive damage was seen in the northeast where some wind gusts were nearing 150 mph. Several names were given to the storm, including “The Storm of the Century” and “The Great Sou’easter” due to the odd path of the storm.

A surface map showing the weather conditions at the peak of snowfall from the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950. (Image courtesy: National Weather Service)


Starting on the 23rd and ending the 24th an arctic cold front passed the Midwest and East Coast. As it did, frigid air took temperatures down from the nice and mild 40s/50s down to the teens in a matter of hours. Along with it, several inches of snow fell adding insult to injury. Up to 7 inches of snow were recorded in Eastern Kentucky on the 24th of November.

Residents Walking through Snow in Cleveland, Ohio from the “Storm of the Century.” (Image courtesy: Cleveland News/Richard J. Misch)


Several low temperature records were broken that year. In Lexington, 3°F was recorded on the morning of the 24th and -3°F the 25th. These daily temperature records still remain in place today. The -3 degrees recorded on the 25th is still the lowest temperature ever recorded in the month of November.

Michigan and Ohio State play in the snow produced by the “Great Appalachian Storm of 1950.” Michigan defeated Ohio State 9-3. (Image courtesy:


An odd movement overtook a low that formed along the arctic front as it was crossing the Carolinas. This northwesterly movement pulled moisture in from the Atlantic and where it met the sub-freezing air, snow was guaranteed. The storm took 3 days to break down as it slowly spun from the Carolinas to Lake Erie. After that, an additional 48 hours were needed for it to eventually break down and scoot east.

Woman digs her car out from the snow. (Image courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)


During this 7 day run, a slurry of impacts were reported and recorded. Cold air slid south from Canada and caused winter precipitation from the Great Lakes through Kentucky, over the central Appalachians and east of the mountains to the Atlantic. Snow amounts were highest in the Upper Ohio River Valley where 50+ inches of snow fell in upstate West Virginia. Portions of Western Pennsylvania had between 30″ and 40″ of snow dumped on them. The highest total recorded was 63.2″ at Coburn Creek, WV which stands as West Virginia’s single-snowstorm snow total record. 

Pittsburgh, PA buried under 30″+ of record-setting snow. (Photo by Walter Stein, Carnegie Library Collection)


In contrast, warmer air from the Atlantic Ocean was pulled north and onshore over the New England States. This allowed for the temperature gradient to be vastly different in just a few hundred miles. The intense pressure gradient allowed for wind gusts to push and exceed 100 mph during the event.

Snow totals reported from the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950. Each color shade represents increments of 10.” ( Image credit: From Northeast Snowstorms Vol. 2 (AMS Books), p. 351, courtesy of Paul Kocin and Louis Uccellini)


New York City reported a wind gust of 94 mph. Higher terrain in the Appalachians had 100+ speeds like Mount Washington, NH where a gust of 160 mph was recorded. The intense wind coming off the Atlantic also caused coastal flooding from New York and Connecticut and north along the coastline. Runways at LaGuardia Airport became inundated with the breaching of dikes around the area. Record flooding was the case in areas that had the warm side of the storm. Eastern Pennsylvania had record flooding during the event. Sadly, 160 storm-caused fatalities were reported.

Tarmac covered in water at LaGuardia Airport during the Great Storm of 1950. (Image credit: New York Office of Emergency Management)


Kentucky impacts were significantly less, but not without its own problems. Over a foot of snow was recorded in Paintsville. Many areas, especially along Pine Mountain received over a foot of snow. Even the Bluegrass got close with 10” reported out of Lexington during the seven-day ordeal.

Kentucky snow totals reported after the 7-day “Great Sou’easter.” (Image courtesy: National Weather Service)