JEFFERSON-Twenty-four years ago this week, Ashe County found itself reeling from a blizzard not seen locally since the infamous “Snow of 1960” that still garners mention at the breakfast table from the elders whenever a heavy snow is in the forecast.
The blizzard that dumped more than three feet of snow on the region has become a watershed event and a warning to the unprepared. A snow of that magnitude is unheard of in the south especially so close to the spring.
The mammoth event was the result of a perfect storm and crippled nearly the entire east coast.
With the help of our trusty archives, the Jefferson Post has compiled media accounts and stories from that disastrous storm. The following are excerpts taken from the March 16, 1993 edition.
“Sometimes called a hurricane of snow, the storm dumped 50 inches of snow on Mt. Mitchell and the Weather Channel said wind gusts of up to 100 mph, well above hurricane strength, had been recorded in the mountains.
“Locally, WKSK Radio’s Jan Caddell said he saw the wind gauge go over 50 mph. The station also reported a Sunday morning low of 3 degrees and a barometric pressure of a very low 28.7 inches – off the scale.”
The ferocity of the storm did not go noticed by the U.S. Postal service as the carrier system that prides itself with tenacity in service reported it would suspend mail service for the duration of the storm.
U.S. 421, U.S. 221 and N.C. 163 were closed altogether for two consecutive days, but that doesn’t mean the weekend was not without fraught of pending catastrophe.
N.C. Trooper Howard Hall said one Department of Transportation truck ran into a snowbank and overturned on N.C. 163 near Hartzog Road Sunday afternoon. Another was hit by a truck that crossed the top of Ray Farm Hill on U.S. 221, south of West Jefferson, Saturday evening and was unable to stop, according to the newspaper article.
N.C. Trooper Ed Messer said most people obeyed the curfew that was imposed Saturday night. “There were a few folks out, but most of the traffic involved emergency vehicles that were out trying to help everybody else,” he said.
“I was in Haywood County whenever we had the big snow back in 1960, and it was bad then, but it wasn’t this bad. We have a four-wheel drive, so we were able to get around – very slowly and not very far. We were stuck on Main Street in downtown West Jefferson twice last night and once on U.S. 221 near the Ashe County Career Center.”
Other vital county operations were also affected by the storm.
At Ashe Memorial Hospital, the few staff members were able to get to work Saturday morning spent the night there and were still on duty Sunday afternoon. Shelia Morgan, an emergency room nurse, said few patients had come in after the ambulance service was shut down. “All of those who came in certainly deserved to be here, but none of them were suffering from problems directly related to the storm,” she said.
Loss of long distance service in the county downed the county’s communications system, used to communicate with other departments across the state. Dispatchers had to rely on a ham radio operator from Creston, Adam Lawler, along with Alleghany County’s communications center to send and receive messages, according to the article.
At the peak of the storm, some 2,000 Ashe County members of the Blue Ridge Electric Membership Co-Op were without electrical power. Some of the worst hit were some 500 customers in Wilkes County, which are served out of the Ashe office.
Even the most experienced of emergency personnel found their hands full as a result of the storm.
Deputy Jerry Lewis found himself stranded in a drift on N.C. 163 at the end of Frank Dillard Road Saturday night and spent four hours trying to dig himself out, said the article.
WKSK Radio was off the air from 11:30 a.m. To 4:15 p.m. Saturday due to technical difficulties caused by static electricity.
Reflections from the storm
“It was awesome, more snow than I’ve ever seen at one time since 1960. We had to work like fighting fire to get our business back to normal. Conley Shepherd used a motorgrater to clear our lot out,” said Rouss Hartzog of Superior Pontiac.
“These are the largest drifts I’ve seen in 20 years.” – Dan Jones, of West Jefferson.
“My neighbor cleaned out my driveway. This was the first time anyone has had to do that in 50 years.” – Gladys Shepherd, of Laurel Springs.
“My husband and I had to crawl out a window to get out of the house. There was a three or four foot snowdrift against the door.” – Viola Wilcox, of Todd.
“I was having my 11th birthday party that Friday night. One of the girls got snowed in with us for five days. As a kid, I loved it! We had tunnels all over the yard and a huge fort in the field. The drift in front of our house was perfect for tunnels.” -Amy Bumgardner.
“I was working as a dispatcher with the Sheriff’s office on Saturday,” said Mark Miller of West Jefferson. “There was about 8 to 10 inches when I went to work at 6 am. It snowed throughout the day. I left for home just before 6 pm. It was normally a five minute drive to Oakwood Road. It took 45 minutes to get home. U.S.221 would white out and you would just have to stop. 221 and 163 had been kept open by the DOT. However the Mount Jefferson Road and Oakwood (roads) had not been touched. I had a 4wd Ford Bronco. In two different places, the snow drifts slid across the hood as I broke through them. The smallest depth of snow was three feet. We got to my driveway and it was a solid fiv-foot drift. I managed to get out of the road, pushed the snow back with the door enough to get out and crawled over the drift to get to the house… It took 45 minutes for a normally five minute trip.”
Reach Jesse Campbell at (336) 846-7164.